Privacy and Data Protection: Here's What Liberties Is Doing to Protect You

We constantly share information and leave traces of ourselves online. And while the benefits are unquestionable, so too are the risks. Here's what Liberties is doing to improve the protection of our privacy.

What are privacy and data protection?

Privacy, or as we call it in legal documents, ‘personal data protection’, refers to a collection of rights that secure our ability to control the information collected about us. These rights help to avoid, or at least lessen, intrusion in and undue interference with our private life. The right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence is a basic human need. It allows us to be free from social pressures and to rest and recuperate, but also, and most importantly for our focus, it allows us to research and discuss issues and form opinions free from the judgment of others.

To protect our right to be left alone, proper legislation is essential, not only at national level, but at international level as well, since local rules cannot really save us in an age when we are using global networks to communicate, share and find information.

But legislation is only one part of this story. When it comes to data protection, it is algorithms and software that make the rules, not lawmakers. So each of us, as users of this technology, has to take steps to ensure greater protection for ourselves. We need to be aware of the decisions we take when we use technology. Using privacy-enhancing technologies, such as encryption and secure internet connections, improves our ability to protect our data. The same is true of activating the privacy setting in the software and websites we use. But businesses that create equipment, websites and applications need to make privacy tools available and easy to use, and the public needs to have a certain level of knowledge about how to use them.

Why are we working on this topic?

In the age of the internet, we constantly share information and leave traces of ourselves online. The benefits of this technology are unquestionable. But it poses serious limitations on our private life. We are more transparent than ever before. Government agencies and businesses constantly gather and transfer information about us, frequently without our knowledge. There are surveillance cameras on all modes of public transport and body scanners waiting for us at airports. When we shop online, our data is not only kept by the shop and our bank, but internet advertisers track us to offer connecting services, and sometimes national security agencies piggyback on their tools.

Proper legislation, well-designed software and better knowledge among the general public on how to use these technologies are essential to protect ourselves from invasions of our privacy – whether it's by the state or businesses. The EU is taking steps to protect EU residents from businesses that abuse personal data for commercial purposes, but most of the companies that run the most popular online businesses operate outside of the EU. And it’s not only businesses: governments can and do invade our privacy through mass surveillance and wiretapping, just to name a few methods.

What will Liberties work towards?

Liberties is going to carry out three activities. First, we will help to inform members of the public when governments and businesses invade their privacy. This allows people to hold companies and the state to account. Second, we will press governments and companies to create laws and practices that better protect privacy. Third, Liberties will bring civil liberties NGOs and technology experts together to educate people about the tools that are available to protect their privacy and how to use them.