Privacy, the NSA and Web Literacies

I work for Mozilla. We were one of 86 civil liberties groups that signed an open letter demanding swift access from Congress in the light of recent revelations around NSA surveillance. The website StopWatching.Us has seen a surge in people signing up to find out what they can do to campaign for a more visible, transparent and accountable government.

I’m a UK citizen. This does not make me exempt from this story. In fact, it makes it even more relevant for ‘foreign nationals’. The NSA has admitted to routinely surveilling those outside US borders – in other words, people like me. And, of course, as I’m not a citizen of the US, I don’t get a vote in elections that may be able to do something about the situation. It’s an extremely disempowering feeling.

I am a citizen of the Web. I work as part of a distributed team spanning several timezones and cultures. We use many different tools in our everyday lives – some free, some paid-for. The ones that are ‘free’, of course, are paid for by someone. That ‘someone’ is usually comprised of advertisers, paying for the data generated by the ‘raw materials’ (a.k.a. us, the users of the service providers).

I work on Web Literacy. We can and should lobby Congress to do something about the NSA revelations. But what can we do on a daily basis? It’s unrealistic to expect all Web users to be cryptography experts. Our aim should be to improve the average level of knowledge, skills and understanding relating to the Web. That’s why I’m leading work for Mozilla with valuable community input to create a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy.

I have hope. It often takes a crisis to galvanise people into action. I doubt I’ve been the only one who has re-evaluated the services that I use in the last couple of weeks. But this isn’t just a user issue, this is a design issue; it’s a rallying point. We should all build privacy controls (such as Do Not Track) as well as cryptography into future products and services.

You can help. You can talk to people who are confused about what the NSA revelations mean for them. You can teach them. You can improve your own knowledge of why privacy is important even if you have nothing to hide. You can lobby the US government. You can write to your local representative. You can help us build a Web Literacy Standard. You have power. We have even more together.

Some resources:
Read The Mozilla Manifesto
Find out more about Terms of Service agreements and how they affect you
Use Me and My Shadow to find out more about privacy on the Web
Track the trackers using Collusion
Improve your knowledge using the EFF’s Surveillance Self-Defense site

Banner image credit: Steve Rhodes http://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/9054778166/in/set-72157634145260907/lightbox/