A Civics Education for Privacy

Ben Moskowitz:

The Mozilla advocacy and campaign teams are meeting this week to plan a multi-year “privacy, security, surveillance” campaign. We’re searching for an issue where we can make a real impact.

I am pushing for “security” to be tip of our campaign’s spear. Something like “we want to know that our devices, communications, and Internet/web services are secure against compromises and attacks from governments or criminals. We don’t want them to contain any deliberate or known weaknesses or backdoors.” This is the kind of principle that resonates across ideological divides, gets people nodding their heads at the watercooler, and gets the red-meat internet people fired up about backdoors in Microsoft products. No public figure wants to be on record saying “a vulnerable Internet is a good thing.”

Intelligence and defense are pouring enormous resources into making the internet communications of our adversaries more vulnerable, which makes everyone more vulnerable. It’s counterproductive. It’s why Yochai Benkler talks in terms of an autoimmune disease; “the defense system attacking the body politic.” This problem is illustrated in ongoing leaks that suggest agencies are looking to deploy malware at mass scale. “When they deploy malware on systems,” security researcher Mikko Hypponen says, “they potentially create new vulnerabilities in these systems, making them more vulnerable for attacks by third parties.”

This is why I think we should put our energy behind “securing the internet.” We can’t stop spying, but we can affect a state change in internet security.

Related: Ed Schools & Civics Education.