How to Protest Without Sacrificing Your Digital Privacy: A Data Security Guide for Online Activists
On 24th February, Russia attacked Ukraine. On the same day, anti-war protests were held in several Russian cities. These protests were quickly dispersed by the Russian police, arresting around 2,000 people.
Of course, the protests didn't end there and according to an independent human rights media project against political persecution, OVD-Info, a total of 6,858 anti-war protesters in Russia were detained since the start of the conflict.
The Russian police are hunting down anti-war protesters at every turn, so in this article, we wanted to give you some practical tips on how to protect your digital privacy when communicating online.
Secure Your Mobile Devices
When it comes to unlocking your phone, there are two ways you can secure your device from unwanted access and that is with a PIN or passcode and with biometrics.
Biometric technology is an easier and faster way to unlock your phone and it usually involves fingerprint readers, although many smartphones also use face or voice recognition and iris scanners. The problem here is that someone can simply hold the phone to your face or press your finger on the reader to unlock the phone, for instance.
That's why we think that using a PIN or passcode is the better option for protecting your device. However, you need to make sure that you don't put it as something like 1234 or 1111. This might be easy to remember and all, but it won't secure your phone or the data in it in case your phone is taken away from you. Instead, use more random numbers.
In fact, here's a full rundown of 15 easy ways to make your Android phone or tablet more private and secure.
Check Your Apps for Security
A lot of apps that you have and use on your phone have access to more than they really need such as your contacts, photos, location, etc. These can be used to track you down so you need to turn those permissions off.
How do you do that?
- Open the Settings app on your phone
- Go to Apps
- Tap Permissions
- Here, you will see a list of different app permissions, including calendar, call logs, camera, contacts, location, microphone, phone, SMS and storage. Tap on either of these to open it
- Once you've opened a specific permission, you will see a list of apps that you can turn said permission on or off by toggling the slider to the right (blue is "on", gray is "off").
For example, check out how an app might your location and how you can stop that from happening in this article.
Secure Your Accounts
Just like you need to secure your phone from unwanted access, you should also do the same with any accounts that you might have connected to it.
Your accounts may hold your personal information, so it's necessary to protect them with a strong and unique password at a minimum, but it's also a good idea to use MFA (multi-factor authentication) as well for an extra layer of privacy and security.
Install a VPN on Your Device
You might not need a VPN service when you're at home all that much, unless it's for accessing some geo-restricted content on the Internet, but today it's necessary to protect your online activities and personal data when you're outside.
What a VPN does is create a "tunnel" between your device and a VPN server, which will hide your IP address and protect your location and identity, as well as encrypt your Internet traffic so that no one on the local network would be able to monitor it.
Use Encryption Technology
As an online activist, you often want to share something with others, like important information with the media. The problem is that this can reveal your identity to the government agencies.
Fortunately, there are many encrypted communication platforms out there, including encrypted email services like CTemplar or encrypted instant messaging services such as Signal that you can use to enhance your digital privacy protection.
The Biggest Data Privacy Risks for Activists
As an activist, you also need to be aware of the numerous data privacy risks online.
We can separate these into four different groups:
Online Privacy Risks
- Search engines
- Web browsers
- Cloud storage services
- ISP (Internet Service Providers)
Each of these might be collecting data from you and track your online activities whether for their own purposes or because government agencies are compelling them to do so.
Social Media Platforms
Social media platforms also collect and share data about you, primarily to send you targeted ads, but if you are too hands-off with what you share and post on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, for instance, you might end up sharing more than you wanted, including your personal information.
Accounts and Devices
We already explained how to protect your accounts and devices, but just to reiterate why this is important.
For instance, your email account might have your name or other personal information that you don't want in someone else's hands. This is why you need to secure it with a strong password and preferably MFA.
On the other hand, many apps on your phone will have different permissions and access different features on your device, including your location or address book so it's important to turn those permissions off to protect your privacy and security.
Finally, if you're an activist, whistleblower, or protester, you might end up on your government's radar and they might be actively monitoring you.
The sad truth is that this might happen to you even if you are just a regular Internet user, as Edward Snowden exposed in 2013 or as we later saw with the Pegasus spyware.
The government and even private companies might use different types of surveillance such as video surveillance, audio surveillance and computer surveillance, so if you want to know more about these, we recommend reading our article on what types of surveillance equipment are out there?
It takes amazing bravery to stand against your own government and leadership, especially when you know that at any moment, the police can come knocking on your door and arrest you.
Today, we can learn this from nearly 7,000 anti-war protesters in Russia, but we had such examples in history as well, where a small group or even an individual refused to bow down, like August Landmesser in 1936 for example.
Unfortunately, it's much easier for government agencies to track you down today using the Internet and surveillance technologies, so it's important to know how to protect your data privacy and we hope that this article will help you in that.