8.1 Surveillance, censorship, and privacy (Intro)

Taking Control, Making a Difference Sessions 8.1 Surveillance, censorship, and privacy (Intro)

Big Brother is Watching

Digital technologies have opened up a world of possibility. Increasing dependence on online communication, smart devices, apps, and more mean that our habits and behaviour are easier to track than ever. Our digital footprints can be massive and incredibly valuable to companies, governments, and even criminals. This puts us at risk for surveillance, censorship, and loss of privacy. Very few people in the world are free from this. The 2023 Freedom on the Net report demonstrates that global internet freedom has been in a steady state of decline for more than a decade, including through internet shutdowns, restricting apps and services, and government overreach.


After this session you should feel more confident in:

  • Understanding the scope of digital surveillance and censorship around the world.
  • Explaining how privacy and freedom from censorship is essential for digital justice.
  • Taking steps to limit surveillance and increase your privacy online.



Digital surveillance involves monitoring people’s activities and communications using devices or platforms. This includes collecting location data from smartphones, analyzing browsing history and emails, and monitoring social media posts. Technologies such as cookies, metadata analysis, and data mining algorithms are commonly used to gather user information. Surveillance may also involve spyware or intercepting digital communication channels.


Online censorship includes the control or suppression of digital information, or the people sharing it. This can be by the hands of governments or internet service providers. Censorship, and laws relating to it, differ from country to country. It can include restricting certain platforms or content, or taking down content deemed inappropriate or politically sensitive. Censorship can restrict communication rights and hinder the open exchange of ideas in digital spaces.


It is hard to protect your privacy online. Often services and devices come with very few options to protect your data and we need to use digital tools for almost everything now. Online privacy relates to our ability to control and protect our personal information online. This includes safeguarding data like our browsing history, location, the content of our digital messages from unauthorized access or use. Some steps can be taken to protect your privacy, including through the selection of privacy-oriented tools and services.

Smart Tech

Smart Tech encompasses a range of interconnected devices equipped with software to automate tasks and gather data. They can be very convenient and efficient. For example, smart thermostats adjust temperatures automatically and voice-activated virtual assistants like Alexa and Siri. Smart devices are vulnerable to unauthorized access, especially when sensitive data is involved. They can also perpetuate inequalities through job displacement, algorithmic bias, and the high cost of many of these devices.

Big Data

Big Data refers to the massive volume of data generated by digital interactions and transactions. This includes information you post online, records of purchases and banking information, or your location or home energy consumption. Vast amounts of personal information are collected, stored, sold, and even stolen. Big Data increases the potential for discrimination, profiling, and manipulation and can threaten the democracy and autonomy of digital spaces.

Case Study

Tyranny and Personal Data Protection Laws in Asia

Who: Advocates, activists, and civil society organizations across the Asia-Pacific region are deeply concerned about the impact of personal data protection (PDP) laws on privacy, freedom of expression, and access to information.

What: PDP laws have emerged as a significant regulatory framework amidst the rapid digitization accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For advocates, understanding the nuances of these laws and their implementation is crucial for safeguarding fundamental rights in the digital age. As data collection becomes ubiquitous in daily life, the regulation of data use has become central to the right to privacy, making it imperative for advocates to engage with PDP laws to ensure they serve the interests of citizens rather than authoritarian regimes or corporate entities.

When: Over the past decade, PDP laws have gained prominence globally, with the Asia-Pacific region witnessing rapid developments in recent years. For advocates, staying abreast of these developments is essential for effectively advocating for policies that uphold democratic values, human rights, and transparency in governance.

Where: Countries across the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal, have been actively framing and implementing PDP legislation. Advocates working in these countries must closely monitor the implementation of PDP laws and challenge any instances of misuse or abuse that threaten democratic principles and civil liberties.

Why: Advocates play a crucial role in ensuring that emerging PDP laws genuinely serve the interests of citizens and democratic values. By scrutinizing the impact of these laws on press freedom, freedom of expression, and access to information, advocates can identify and challenge instances of misuse or abuse by authoritarian governments and corporate entities. Additionally, advocating for transparent and accountable implementation of PDP laws is essential for promoting trust in digital systems and protecting individuals’ rights in an increasingly digitized world.

Source: Association for Progressive Communications (say something about this source)


You’re doing well taking on the big issues related to online surveillance, censorship, and privacy. Hopefully you now have a sense of some of the biggest challenges digital justice advocates are facing and are ready to go a bit deeper. Click Complete Lesson to move to the next part of this session. There you will learn from some experts in the field from around the world.