Digital Rights are Human Rights
In honor of the United Nations' proclamation and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, December 10 is Human Rights Day. Unlike a linear and accumulative process, the struggle for and implementation of human rights follows an unplanned and unique path in each community, and there are often setbacks. In the recent years, the international debate around human rights started to include and analyze our relations and interactions with technology, and how we are able or not able to exercise our human rights when we're on the internet. We believe human rights apply to all spaces we occupy, offline and online.
Politics and technologies have also been closely intertwined: how we conceived our collective life has been fundamental to the ways in which we conceive our technologies. For the ways in which early internet activist movements articulated the importance of human rights online, the anti-WTO protests in Seattle of nearly 20 years ago serve as a powerful example. Although different people and movements have outlined what online utopias might look like, the internet as a liberation tool has been hijacked to become a tool for mass surveillance.
Today academics, researchers, and hackers are discussing algorithms implemented in new digital technologies and how they are being weaponized with human targets. Automated systems are implemented to capture our digital traces, monitor our daily lives with no accountability. With complete lack of transparency, digital surveillance has real impact on human lives: discrimination, preventing people from organizing, enabling targeting and arrest of marginalized groups, and even blocking purchases and access to services, as well as access to information.
These biased, weaponized algorithms perpetuate unequal societies, marginalizing even more vulnerable groups. The right to access an open and free internet, use privacy enhancing technologies and, especially, the access to and defense of cryptography, have become critical and fundamental against a dystopic mass surveillance and censored society. The discussion can be expanded to how technologies are being built in ways that threaten human rights, and how we can build another internet which advances and respects human rights.
At the Tor Project, we build technologies that defend and promote the human rights to privacy and freedom. More than just a way to exercise an individual right, it’s a collective collaboration and movement that generates a common good for all. Everyone can use this open and secure network as infrastructure that has privacy as a default feature of its design. The Tor network promotes a radical decentralization with onion services, so you can run your own service without a dedicated IP address or having a domain name, all done privately and securely. Tor also promotes net neutrality, since it doesn't modify the traffic based on who is accessing it or which sites they are visiting. In other words, it's what we've always wanted the internet to be.
A few months ago, we told you how the Community and UX teams are implementing a User Feedback Program, a program that combines user experience research and digital security training for human rights defenders.
This program is the result of more than two years of work organizing Tor trainings with human rights defenders in the Global South. We traveled to countries where governments outlaw or punish being LGBTQ+ and block trans and gays rights websites with accusations of immorality. We know that the tools developed by Tor protect many activists in very hostile situations around the world. We listened to many stories from activists telling us that the internet wasn’t always like that in their communities, and that they were glad to explore freely again after installing Tor Browser.
Fighting for human rights includes victories and setbacks, but our selective memory sometimes forgets one or other. The only clear orientation is that we need is to stand for our rights. If you are a human rights defender, anonymity loves company, so come with us, use Tor, and help us take back the internet.
There are many ways to donate to us and support our work. With your help, we can keep Tor growing and improving to be what the world needs: a way to help take back the internet for freedom and human rights.