Sept. 30, 2013
Recent digital inclusion policies that aim to increase digital literacy of new Internet and computer users, promote civic engagement, and improve economic development do not currently address the privacy needs of new users. This paper presents an in-depth look at surveillance and privacy problems faced by individuals who turn to digital literacy organizations for training and Internet access, including low income individuals, people of color, immigrants, the elderly, and non-English speakers. These individuals are coming online without adequate skills, know-how, and social support to confront digitally enabled government surveillance and corporate intrusions of personal privacy. The paper also details the challenges, such as limited resources, time, and expertise, that providers face when teaching users how to stay safe online. New Internet users should not have to choose between going online and feeling safe, secure, and free from surveillance. Now, more than ever, digital inclusion policies need to pay greater attention to developing providers’ expertise and capacity to handle privacy and surveillance concerns of new Internet users. Privacy advocates and developers also have a role to play. Expanding “digital literacy” to include privacy education requires that privacy protecting tools become easier to use. Until then, the benefits of digital inclusion are at odds with the potential harms wrought by a surveillance society.