Access Now’s Brett Solomon on Shifting Norms for Digital RightsOct 4, 2021
"The concept of digital rights has shifted," said Brett Solomon, co-founder and executive director of Access Now, an organization that defends and extends the digital rights of vulnerable populations. He joined Orchid's Derek Silva on this week's episode of the Priv8 podcast.
"We had traditionally defined these rights as the freedoms of opinion and expression, as well as the ability to access information and assemble. But there's so much more to it now."
According to Brett, much of this shift in digital rights accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. "Nearly all of our rights are at risk," he said. "Governments are deeply concerned with national security and political control—and as a result, everything from healthcare to education to the very right to life has been impacted. The kind of digital environment that we're living in today is increasingly militarized and surveilled.
"So how do we rally around that? How do we protect those rights?"
An important first step, said Brett, is ensuring that all people have access to the Internet. "We often forget that 40% of the global population is not connected to the Internet. We need to make a strong commitment to getting the whole world online. It's not that everybody needs to spend time on the Internet—it's that everybody needs to have the choice to be online."
Indeed, Internet access—increasingly considered a key human need—is currently under threat in much of the world.
"There's a major push toward disconnection at the moment. Governments are undertaking a litany of actions: Internet shutdowns, attacks on privacy, disinformation campaigns, and more. There were 155 shutdowns in 29 countries last year alone."
Governments are also placing increasing pressure on private companies to disable privacy protections. Take encryption, for example: "Many governments are trying to say that companies need to break encryption to protect society. But the opposite is true—encryption doesn't undermine security. It's actually the pathway to security; it's the foundation for trust online. Breaking encryption creates insecurity.
"So it's great for users to be putting pressure on companies to preserve their rights, and it's great for companies to be responding with technology," Brett said. "Hopefully, we're heading in the right direction."
You can check out Derek's entire conversation with Brett here. And don't forget to subscribe to Priv8 Podcast on your favorite streaming service.