Today we are launching a new report called ‘A Look Back at Privacy’, which sums up the findings of the historical research we conducted over the past few months. It’s available in EPUB format, Kindle Mobi and as a PDF.
In March, I wrote about beginning a research series to find inspiration for digital rights policy in historical events. The project was born out of curiosity. Looking at the current moment we are living in, parallels with the Industrial revolution are clear. The way we live, work and communicate is constantly affected and re-shaped by technological innovation. The economy is changing, innovation is fast-paced, and regulators are having difficulty keeping up.
But beyond looking at the obvious historical comparisons, we wanted to draw inspiration from some unorthodox sources. Our brainstorm during our team retreat led to more ideas than I could cover in my six month tenure at IF. Topics included looking at where the current model of terms & conditions originated from, message integrity and privacy in the telegraph system, and how design patterns of security in the banking world led to the mainstreaming of two-factor authentication (chip and PIN).
The patterns we did explore, however, were illuminating. Originally published through a series of Medium posts, we decided it would be most useful to unite them in a report, which we are publishing today. While the investigation was originally interested in digital rights more broadly, it naturally narrowed towards privacy. The result is a thematic investigation of historical events which, directly or indirectly, can teach us about protecting privacy.
The format is more narrative than that of a traditional report. The reason is that the principal focus of this piece is not to be the definitive authority on privacy. Rather, it is to encourage the reader to rethink some preconceived notions about privacy, and draw inspiration from unexpected sources when thinking about how to preserve it. We hope this report will do that for you, as it did for our team. We also hope that it will inspire other researchers, activists and advocates to continue to look at history for lessons on digital rights policy. If it does, please reach out and let us know. We’d love to hear from you.