The current climate for digital communications is dismal. Between hackers trying to eavesdrop on and pirate data from online transactions to state-level demands for information, understanding how to keep your data private is more important than ever.
Recently, Russia took steps to protect their citizens from the overreach of other nations by passing legislation requiring data about Russian citizens to reside only on servers physically located in Russia. Whether or not this action will be successful remains to be seen. In the United States, however, it's become evident that the physical location of a server means little to government officials.
Just this past week, the US Justice Department demanded Microsoft surrender data held on their overseas servers in Ireland merely because Microsoft conducts business within the US:
The U.S. federal government is claiming that it can force any company that conducts business operations within its borders to comply with warrants for data stored on its databases, even if those databases aren't physically located within the United States.[ref]Justice Department battles Microsoft over access to data stored on overseas databases[/ref]
This move by the US government only highlights Russia's recent legislative action. If US courts continue to rule in the favor of the Justice Department, it will only further chill the sentiment towards American-based technology firms abroad.
I'm very proud to work for a company spread not just across the country, but across the globe - both my team and my clients come from very different parts of the world. I'm also very excited to have the opportunity to travel internationally for conferences and other work-related events.
This connection to the world-at-large makes me very keen on how US-based tech is viewed by the rest of the international community. Take for instance the fact that WordPress is rooted heavily here in America. It's leading developers are in the US. Some of the largest companies contributing code and resources to the project are in the US. The majority of WordCamps happen here in the US.
If the rest of the world can't trust US-based tech, will they find a foreign alternative to WordPress?
I hope not. I hope we can remain transparent enough to continue to instill trust in the community, and I will fight to keep things that way. WordPress itself is rooted in transparency, openness, and the belief that everyone has the right to a voice.
I use the word right judiciously, because it means some very specific things. I believe everyone has the right to a voice. They have the right to speak their mind on any topic and share their opinions with the world. They have a right to be critical of others, particularly governments and extra-individual organizations.
The United Nations agrees, and has passed resolutions affirming these rights and promoting the creation of nation-level laws to protect them. In the wake of revelations about digital control (i.e. network access), they've gone so far as to issue a statement that these rights to expression extend to the digital realm.
Likewise, the United Nations has stated that human rights protections on personal privacy extend to the digital world as well:
Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
While the mandate for the present report focused on the right to privacy, it should be underscored that other rights also may be affected by mass surveillance, the interception of digital communications and the collection of personal data. These include the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart information; to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; and to family life – rights all linked closely with the right to privacy and, increasingly, exercised through digital media. Other rights, such as the right to health, may also be affected by digital surveillance practices, for example where an individual refrains from seeking or communicating sensitive health-related information for fear that his or her anonymity may be compromised. There are credible indications to suggest that digital technologies have been used to gather information that has then led to torture and other ill-treatment. Reports also indicate that metadata derived from electronic surveillance have been analysed to identify the location of targets for lethal drone strikes. Such strikes continue to raise grave concerns over compliance with international human rights law and humanitarian law, and accountability for any violations thereof. The linkages between mass surveillance and these other effects on human rights, while beyond the scope of the present report, merit further consideration.[ref]The right to privacy in the digital age (PDF)[/ref]
The Way Forward
If not defended, individuals and entities more powerful would happily snatch up your rights and remove you from any position to argue or otherwise oppose them. Every nation in the world has seen some form of oppression in their history, some more recently than others.
We all want to live in a safe, secure world. We want to live in a world free of fear and doubt. Various organizations and governments have used this communal desire as justification for massive spy programs, the very act of which undermines the security it claims to be protecting.
Individuals have spoken out against and exposed these programs to the world, only to be labelled "coward" and "traitor" and chased across the world by the shady organizations about which they reported.
Our rights to free speech and privacy are under constant attack; the only way to defend them is to practice them passionately. To speak out when we see injustice. To keep our secrets and fight tooth and nail when our right "to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures"[ref]Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution[/ref] is violated. By anyone. For any reason.
The way forward is to exercise our rights and test where others are trying to sneak portions of them away. It's only by using our rights that we'll know they remain intact.