Humanists Should Value Privacy and Security

Humanism aims for the full development of all people. To that end, I think all Humanists should intensely value privacy and security, including internet security.

Privacy is the ability to keep things to yourself, like a journal, or only to people who should access it, like communication between you and your bank, or you and your spouse. Atheists should immediately see why this important. In some countries the government will punish people for being atheists. In other countries, people will be attacked, lose their jobs, or be effectively disqualified from public office. Raif Badawi was also targeted for speaking against the dominate religion in Saudi Arabia.

The ability to write down your thoughts can be an important part of the deconversion process. Being able to privately share them is also important. In modern times, this requires a private process that is secured.

Privacy

Privacy means that any service that you use is built to keep communications private. Some companies work efficiently with governments to handover information to that government, like the WeChat from the Chinese company Tencent, which also makes their own social media websites. Google has shown itself to work hard within the law to prevent giving information to governments, but does comply when legally compelled. And they have a lot of information! All SMS text messages are also easily readable by hackers and government, and SMS histories are often kept in databases that may be hacked.

Privacy centric apps like Wire and Signal messengers are private by design. They have very little information on you because they encrypt everything. This means they cannot give much information to the government. Signal keeps the least amount of information on you. But Wire allows you to have an account without a cell phone number that is connected to your credit card and home address. (You must create the account through the website, however.)

Security

Another key issue is security. It doesn’t matter if everyone keeps things private and is trustworthy if hackers (criminals or government) can get access to it. You need a strong password. Consider using a password manager, and second factor authentication (but not SMS). On top of all of that, the service you use needs to be secured. The company needs to have used proven encryption technology (not Telegram) and to take security seriously (not Facebook). SMS has no security, and is easily readable.

Wire and Signal also have an advantage here. They don’t store your messages on their server like Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Slack.

Why We Should Take Privacy and Security Seriously

We should all be moving to more secure and privacy focused services, especially for communication. Some ask ‘why? I have nothing to hide!’ Ahh, but you do!

  • Keep your private data private. When you have to send sensitive data that could be used for identity theft, send it on something encrypted. When venting about co-workers or family, make it harder for hackers to blackmail you with it, in a reversal of the BitLocker ransom. Be able to express yourself without worrying if someone else will find out. This is everything from banking information to sexting.
  • Keep other people’s data private. Wire has business account that competes with Slack, keeping trade secrets and customer data better protected. If your company is using email or Facebook to send personal information about customers around, this is a problem. And it could cause problems for you. Protect other people’s data and protect yourself from being held responsible for leaking that data to hackers or other random people.
  • To make sure these private and secure services become more widespread for atheists and others who need this stuff to be easy to access. By using and advocating for privacy and security, we make it easier for people to get.
  • And most importantly, what if in a few years you find yourself as the protagonist in an action movie where evil government agencies target you for being a thread, even if you aren’t one. You need to be able to communicate and organize in a way the antagonist characters wouldn’t be able to trace.

If we foster a culture of privacy and security, we will have it if we need. Or when we need it.

[Edit to point out SMS is also easy to compromise.]

4 thoughts on “Humanists Should Value Privacy and Security

  1. I recommend that everyone that uses the Internet for more than the most trivial things – which is everyone that uses the Internet these days – take some time to learn the bare basics of computer security. Most people don’t even have the slightest fraction of a clue of just how vulnerable they are, or the multitude of ways they are being exploited.

    For example, everyone should be using end-to-end encryption communication technologies. Those are things that encrypt data right at the source – as you send it, before it even leaves your computer and hits the Internet – and decrypts it only at the destination. Signal does that; Slack does not. (I think Wire didn’t do it at first, but does now.)

    To understand why end-to-end encryption is important, you have to understand how the Internet works. The Internet is a lot kids like passing messages in class. You write your message on a sheet of paper, along with the name of the person the note is intended for, then pass it on to someone else who is closer to the addressee. That person checks the addressee, and if it’s not them, passes it along to someone closer… then that person does the same… and so on until it gets to the addressee.

    Of course, at any stage of the communication, someone can simply throw the note away. Or read it. Or, worse, edit it or substitute it with a whole new note. That’s literally how the Internet works; it was designed for researchers to share data that was all public property anyway – they didn’t take into account general use, private data, or bad actors.

    So without encryption, everything you send over the Internet is public property. Yes, even your passwords to various sites. Yes, even your banking information.

    A few weeks ago, CA switched to HTTPS, and that was a very important change. “HTTPS” is “HTTP + security”… basically, the normal Internet plus encryption. This is more like passing notes in class that are written in a secret code. The note is still passed from person to person, but now no-one along the way can read the note (or rather, they can read it, but it’s gibberish to them), and they can’t modify it without knowing the secret code. That means that if the recipient gets the note, and it decodes properly, they can trust it hasn’t been tampered with or read along the way.

    This isn’t perfect security, because – for example – everyone along the way knows who the note is for. (That problem is solved by Tor’s “onion protocol”.) But it’s a good start.

    Encryption isn’t just something for spies or tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. It should be the bare minimum standard for all Internet communication.

    • You are correct about Wire. It transitioned to open source and end-to-end encryption. It also now has a Slack competitor Enterprise feature set for organizations with multiple chat channels.

      The thing I like about it is that it’s multidevice. I’m a multidevice guy, and it does E2E encryption very well across multiple devices.

      • I thought Slack was just IRC with “Enterprise makeup” to make it more appealing to businesses and types who get unnerved by IRC’s Wild West “lawless and rough around the edges” aesthetic.

        And similarly, that Discord is just IRC with voice channels.

        • That comparison is not without merit. However, they both use very different under the hood technology from IRC. Rather than IRC, everything is stored in a cloud-based manner. This allows you to have complete histories accessible to all people. And have additional features like reactions to individual messages and richer inline features.

          Slack seems to go a bit further: they have threads within chat channels, and the ‘enterprise makeup’ includes separating out channels by which enterprise they belong to. Also, I believe treats channels and individual chats equally.

          I certainly enjoyed reading the technically challenges of the infrastructure that Discord choose from a database perspective.

          The key element here is that lawless bit: Slack, Discord as well as Wire’s enterprise features are based on having top down control. Someone who decides who can and cannot have access to the chat channels. Wire has it’s personal section, which is, of course, a free for all.

          I’m considering making a Wire group chat for SHAFT people to hangout in.

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