Recent debates over everything from racial inequality to the rapidly advancing pace of today’s technological progress has reignited an intense discussion about civil rights issues. What’s more, people everywhere are coming to realize that things like online privacy, once largely ignored by society, are indeed worthy of our attention. Finally, people are beginning to wake up and discover that online privacy is a civil rights issue.

Here’s why our digital security and privacy is paramount towards the protection of your civil rights, and how you can fight to keep what’s yours in the face of corporate efforts to erode individual freedoms.

We all know civil rights must be fought for

Everyone should understand by now that civil rights aren’t something granted to you by a benevolent government or god, but are rather something that must be arduously fought for and maintained at every available opportunity. That’s why we need to stop discussing our online privacy like it’s some special gift being granted to us by governments and corporations that sell us digital devices and services, and begin to demand what we deserve. Around the country today, we’re seeing a real effort on behalf of large tech companies and certain legislators to strip everyday Americans of their digital rights.

Online privacy fears are very real. Already today, millions of people are being surveilled and having their information vacuumed up without their consent. More people are tracking you than you think, and those who aren’t careful can literally have their lives snatched to them thanks to internet stalkers. People of color, women and minorities of all stripes, in particular, stand out as vulnerable targets for trolls, hackers and those who would abuse today’s digital world for their own benefit.

Online privacy is sometimes used for evil purposes, too. Ask any woman or minority how long they have to spend on the internet before getting labeled with a slur, and you’ll find that the universal answer typically hovers somewhere between “instantly” and “right away.” Trolls are spreading racial hatred through today’s most popular channels, specifically targeting people of color with glee.

Now, more than ever before, we need to remind ourselves that digital interactions are real and that digital threats and injustices need to be treated with just as much sincerity as “real world” racism and bigotry. Online privacy issues are only going to continue growing in the near-future, too, so the longer that people of color and other targeted groups wait to insist on their rights, the more ammunition their opponents will have to use against them.

Politics is going digital

Black Americans, and other people of color living in a country where they often feel isolated from their own kind, are familiar with the sensation of being totally shut out of the political process. As today’s politics continues to go digital, and more important economic, political, and cultural questions are decided through digital channels, minority communities will only see their inequality grow worse if they don’t demand their seat at the online table.

Protecting your online privacy with a VPN and other methods is probably the most important thing that any young American can do to ensure that their government isn’t surveilling them and that their fellow citizens won’t target them with racially-motivated hatred. The ACLU has already put together an excellent resource page to help keep one’s identity private when browsing the internet, which people of color everywhere should take time to familiarize themselves with.

Black Americans know what it’s like to be unfairly targeted by the government, as they’ve been experiencing it nonstop sine 1776. As Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s PRISM program illustrate, the American government is more than happy to pry behind closed doors, even if it means violating the civil rights and digital privacy of its own citizens. Rather than waiting for someone else to come along and secure their digital privacy for them, honest Americans need to take matters into their own hands and make sure their online privacy is at the forefront of their mind.

While major corporations continue to expand their data mining and storage efforts, online consumers can’t sacrifice their rights. As governments expand their surveillance programs, citizens can’t afford to give up their civil rights. In the 21st century, the defining political battle of our times will doubtlessly be the continued fight over online privacy and consumer rights. As minorities of all backgrounds understand all too well, these rights are never freely given, but earned through concerted political efforts.

Don’t trick yourself into believing that it’s impossible to secure your online privacy. In today’s day and age, online privacy and digital security are regularly finding themselves under attack from governments and corporations alike, and we must remember that they’re paramount civil rights that must be preserved at all costs.