CHRISTIANE BEYA (RSJ ’18)
cbeya@ryerson.ca

OpenMedia digital rights specialist Laura Tribe believes we all have something to hide.

That’s why we have walls in our homes, locks on our doors and passwords on our computers. But when it comes to digital privacy issues, many people still think “if I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear.” Tribe, whose expertise lies at the intersection of human rights and communication technologies, emphatically disagrees.

“I think this is the underlying problem with the framing of digital privacy rights: the idea that we’re still trying to prove that we have nothing to hide,” said Tribe.

Tribe was speaking at a Centre for Free Expression event at the Ryerson School of Journalism on March 15. The workshop, which offered an overview on why privacy matters, also included a pre-recorded cameo appearance by Edward Snowden, who echoed Tribe’s concerns.

“Even if you’re not doing anything that needs to be protected, you need to make sure that your communications are protected,” said Snowden.

Even if you trust that you don’t have anything to hide and you stand behind all the legal information you are putting out, you are making the gross assumption that what people see in that data is the same thing that you see. The same information, Tribe said, can be misinterpreted by people and institutions, such as the government, in different ways.

“You’re assuming that the government is seeing that same information that you are. They see ways that information connects and you have no idea. It is interpreted differently especially through internet search histories,” said Tribe.

She also discussed how you can limit the information your cellphone reveals about you:

Location: Geographic information can easily be tracked through cellular devices. Google Maps and transit apps, for example, require location services to be switched on and enables your service provider to track you between cellphone towers. Tribe encouraged audience members to protect their phones with a password as well as have different passwords for different sites.

Encryption: SMS messaging is not a secure way to share information, Tribe said.  It can be decrypted. Helpful apps include the “Snowden-approved” Signal, which protects the privacy of your text messages by encrypting the content of your communication, and Wire, an encrypted video conferencing app that Tribe describes as a combination between Slack and Google Hangouts.

Ad blockers: Installing an ad blocker may be the easiest thing you can do to protect your privacy online. They automatically eliminate tracking and advertising profiling, and have the added benefit of giving you a less-cluttered Internet-browsing experience.

When asked by an audience member why big companies are interested in tracking people, Tribe responded that it is about power.

“We can try to take some of the power back and try to control how much we are putting out there,” said Tribe. But it’s really on us to demand that other people do better for us.”