Picture this: you are sitting in the kitchen of your home enjoying a drink. As you sip, you scroll through your phone, looking at the news of the day. You text a link to a news article critiquing your government’s stance on the press to a friend who works in media. Your sibling sends you a message on an encrypted service updating you on the details of their upcoming travel plans. You set a reminder on your calendar about a doctor’s appointment, then open your banking app to make sure the payment for this month’s rent was processed.
Everything about this scene is personal. Nothing about it is private.
Without your knowledge or consent, your phone has been infected with spyware. This technology makes it possible for someone to silently watch and taking careful notes about who you are, who you know, and what you’re doing. They see your files, have your contacts, and know the exact route you took home from work on any given day. They can even turn the microphone of your phone on and listen to the conversations you’re having in the room.
This is not some hypothetical, Orwellian drama, but a reality for thousands of people around the world. This kind of technology — once a capability only of the most technologically advanced governments — is now commercially available and for sale from numerous private companies who are known to sell it to state agencies and private actors alike. This total loss of privacy should worry everyone, but for human rights activists and journalists challenging authoritarian powers, it has become a matter of life and death.
The companies who develop and sell this technology are only passively accountable toward governments at best, and at worse have their tacit support. And it is this lack of regulation that Marietje Schaake, the International Policy Director at the Cyber Policy Center and International Policy Fellow at Stanford HAI, is trying to change.
Amsterdam and Tehran: A Tale of Two Elections
Schaake did not begin her professional career with the intention of becoming Europe’s “most wired politician,” as she has frequently been dubbed by the press. In many ways, her step into politics came as something of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one.
“I've always been very interested in public service and trying to improve society and the lives of others, but I ran not expecting at all that I would actually get elected,” Schaake confesses.
As a candidate on the 2008 ticket for the Democrats 66 (D66) political party of the Netherlands, Schaake saw herself as someone who could help move the party’s campaign forward, but not as a serious contender in the open party election system. But when her party performed exceptionally well, at the age of 30, Schaake landed in the third position of a 30-person list vying to fill the 25 open seats available for representatives from all political parties in the Netherlands. Having taken a top spot among a field of hundreds of candidates, she found herself on her way to being a Member of the European Parliament (MEP).