Your holiday catch-up reading: key digital rights conversations in the U.S.

Like the rest of you, Access Now’s DC office is taking time this holiday season to reflect on what we are thankful for. Among those things is you, the global community working to protect the human rights of the most vulnerable.  Your strength has been a continual inspiration over the past year, as we’ve kept watch on U.S. proposals to ensure that when lawmakers make decisions regarding law enforcement, national security, cybersecurity, and connectivity, they do not ignore our fundamental rights.

As we said back in January, there are lots of ways for people to get involved in U.S. policy debates and help protect those most at risk, such as journalists, activists, and members of marginalized communities. So if you’re home right now looking for reading material, here are some pieces that can help you get caught up on developments in the past year and dig into the debates happening right now.

Protecting your data

Over the past year, Access Now has stood strong for policies to protect your personal data from malicious actors. To start, we’ve worked globally to make sure that companies can develop and implement — and you’re free to use — the strongest possible encryption measures. We helped bring together NGOs in five nations for a coalition letter to push leaders of the “Five Eyes” countries to protect encryption, and we continue to hold them to account. Additionally, recognizing how the “Internet of Things” is invading our private worlds, we filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to stop bad data security practices from hurting users or being leveraged for serious, widespread harm. While people can benefit from technological innovation, that innovation must be responsible, and in an increasingly interconnected world, our safety will depend on it. Finally, we created resources to help you better understand and use two-factor authentication, a critically important tool to stop others from breaking into your accounts. We encourage you and your loved ones to work together to turn on two-factor authentication this holiday season, especially for your most important accounts: banking, email, social media. We’re all safer when our friends and family keep data secure, and you can bond over the mutual satisfaction of better security!

Protecting your privacy

The right to privacy must be fiercely protected in any democratic society. That’s why we’re working to strengthen the system of international agreements that protects your privacy when law enforcement seeks access to your data overseas. This includes making sure the system works well enough to reduce the incentives for law enforcement to bypass privacy protections. In a five-part blog post series we explored the issue in depth, coming to the conclusion that the conversation must put the people who are impacted at the center of it. We will continue to advocate on behalf of the users, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere. In the private sector, we began to explore a technological approach to protecting the data that you provide to companies when you use devices, products, and services. Our blog series on “differential privacy” shows why it has strong potential, while also examining its drawbacks with an eye to pursuing solutions.

Protecting the open internet

This year Ajit Pai took leadership at the Federal Communications Commission, immediately pushing to roll back reforms to safeguard the internet against special interests. After supporting invalidation of rules that protect your broadband privacy, Pai’s FCC moved to repeal the rules for Net Neutrality, the principles that keep the internet open and free. These rules were hard-won, and they have the support of millions of people in the U.S. (not to mention around the world). They are a vital and necessary check on the broad power of internet providers to manipulate access to the internet for the sake of profit, to the detriment of innovation and free expression. We are pushing back to defend these rules, and we will continue to do so, wherever Net Neutrality is threatened.

Protecting your “cyber”

It might not be over yet, but 2017 is already the year that left cybersecurity professionals humbled. It showed the power of governments and companies alike in making the internet secure — or insecure. The globally devastating WannaCry and Petya (Not Petya) attacks were enabled by the same pilfered NSA exploit, which the U.S. kept secret — unpatched — for its own surveillance operations. The U.S. must instead move to protect us, as the Congress considers legislation on critically important cybersecurity issues, including laws to improve IoT security or notify people when there is a data breach. Furthermore, in its efforts to improve cybersecurity, the U.S. cannot behave as though it is in a bubble. That’s why Access Now is participating this week at the Global Conference in Cyberspace in New Delhi, India, where delegations from across the globe, including the U.S., have the opportunity to commit to putting users at the heart of cybersecurity policy, apply systemic solutions to systemic problems, and ensure that cybersecurity policy is created through an open and pluralistic process that includes civil society experts on technology and human rights.

Protecting the global community

Throughout the year we have watched the U.S. pursue and implement policies that expressly disregard the fundamental rights, and therefore the basic humanity, of anyone who dares to have been born outside the United States. While we recognize the importance of giving our national security agencies the tools to protect against attacks, this cannot come at the expense of human rights. That’s why we’ve aggressively pursued reforms to U.S. surveillance law to protect all people. While Congress’ reform proposals have fallen far short of adequate, we have continued to engage to ensure there is progress on human rights, which is vital for trust and global commerce. And, because we think inclusion is important both for human rights in the development of internet technology and our societies we’ve also fought discriminatory policies at the border that hurt free speech and create new global privacy risks.

Thanks for reading, and for all of your efforts to protect digital rights in the past year. We’ll strive to keep you updated as events unfold on Capitol Hill, identifying ways that you can get involved. Together, we can make a difference.