Privacy advocates in liberal Western democracies often face the problem of explaining the existential value of being able to hide and act anonymously. Many people have this intuitive "I have nothing to hide"
attitude, which seems to be growing among the young generation
. The trust in governments, legal protection and human rights has certainly taken some punches recently because of the expanding surveillance programmes being set up under the guise of the "war on terror/child porn/whatever-fits-public-opinion", but to most people, it is not an existential problem but rather an abstract concern that maybe goes in line with a general frustration about politics.
There are people in this world who actually risk their lives for a great cause, and who desperately need effective privacy for their protection. These are the human rights activists, researchers, and lawyers that work in openly oppressive countries and dictatorships. While many of them use computers, the practical problems and risks related to this are not widely understood. Privaterra
, the Toronto Citizen Lab
and others have been working on this for the last couple of years with capacity-building workshops and technical help. One of the most active groups here has been Front Line
, group based in Ireland that gives grants and also has its own operational activity.
Front line has just released a large manual titled "Digital Security and Privacy for Human Rights Defenders". The 164-pages book (pdf
) contains systematic descriptions of privacy and security risks human rights defenders may face (and have faced), and has detailed and hands-on instructions for all kinds of protections, including computer setting and tools, but also workflow management, physical office security, and so on. The volume includes rich material and examples on the state of surveillance and oppression online, making it also worth a read for those not directly working in this field. Kudos to Dmitri Vitaliev who did all the work in pulling this together and writing most of the text.