The ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship

2018 Scholarship Winner

Savannah Sorenson
Empire High School, Tucson, Arizona
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If you had the combined powers of all the world’s leaders, what would be your 10-year plan to ensure the next generation has the right to privacy?

All of the world’s leaders from a total of 195 countries arrived today in London, England, to sign what has now become known as the Carson treaty. For years countries have battled against threats to cybersecurity. Government servers are regularly hacked by malicious individuals seeking personal gain. Since the 1990s, humanity has been forced to wonder if their data was being stored on a secure, encrypted server. Citizens from around the world have been calling on their representatives for years, and today those calls are being answered. Every country in the world has agreed to uphold and fund a 10-year plan for increased cybersecurity.

The plan involves using artificial intelligence (AI) that was first developed nearly a decade ago. AI technology can attack data breaches and other cybersecurity threats at exponential rates that can’t be matched by humans. Beginning next month, individuals, companies, and governments will have their own cybersecurity assistant to protect them on all digital platforms.

The project, nicknamed Carson, will receive cybersecurity knowledge from around the world and will monitor and search for patterns of fraudulent behavior in programs. Carson will look for data breaches and offer solutions to those it is unable to solve on its own. Carson is currently being developed by the most prestigious engineers in the world. Carson will use an extremely strong 256-bit AES encryption. Hungarian representative Pista Magner said that “we will not take risks with Carson’s own security.” Developers applying to work on Carson will also need to have substantial background checks. Eventually, however, Carson will learn to protect itself.

The Carson will be free to download, as this momentous day celebrates the coming together as a global and digital world. Both the rich and the poor deserve the data protection this program will offer. More users will also result in a wider range of resources to search for data breach trends, thus improving Carson’s overall function. With the acceptance of this 10-year plan, the entire Earth has come together to defeat a common enemy. By signing the agreement to be a part of Project Carson, every country in the world has declared war on cybersecurity threats.

Hackers, phishers, and malware designers beware!

Published Mar 8, 2045

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Read more about the winner in our interview here!

The runners-up

Five students also won a full year of ExpressVPN. They are:

Mirte Kuijpers, University of Cambridge, UK

Marc Pescion, University of Denver, Colorado, U.S.

Tran Duy Minh, University of Massachusetts, U.S.

Brendan Flaherty, St. Anselm College, New Hampshire, U.S.

Leah Abrams, Duke University, North Carolina, U.S.

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The ExpressVPN Future of Privacy Scholarship was created to raise awareness of internet privacy and security.

The internet is undoubtedly having a transformative effect on our education system.

ExpressVPN found, for instance, that virtually all classrooms across the US are being equipped with unprotected high-speed broadband , leaving them open to data breaches, cyber attacks, and surveillance. Across the pond, UK schools are pouring billions into educational technology for both teachers and students, but more than a quarter of them still lack basic cybersecurity measures to keep such technology secure.

As the number of internet-ready devices entering classrooms in the US and the UK skyrockets, so do the threats and vulnerabilities to the privacy of the individuals who use them. Awareness, then, of online security and a fundamental understanding of privacy rights are more important than ever.

How to enter

Please check back in January for next year’s scholarship topic!

Why you should enter

  • You will have a chance to win a $5,000 cash prize.
  • The winner will be featured on multiple communications platforms.
    This is a great resume-builder for a career in journalism or any relevant field of study.
  • This is an opportunity to become a leading voice in the growing debate over encryption, digital rights, internet privacy, and the fight against censorship.

Awards and selection process

Scholarship award amount

The winner of the 2018 Scholarship will receive a $5,000 cash prize.

ExpressVPN will also select five runners-up to be rewarded each with a 12-month VPN subscription .

Selection process

The winning essay shall be determined using the following criteria:

  • Level of creativity, originality, and detail of the submission
  • Student’s ability to formulate an opinion
  • Clear and articulate writing

Past winners

Elizabeth Fijalkiewicz
University of Minnesota
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2017 Scholarship Winner


It’s 2027 and government surveillance on citizens’ internet activities is legal, in force, and widespread. Governments worldwide are watching everything you’re doing. What happens to art, culture, innovation, scientific research, freedom of expression, etc.?

She enters the Library of Congress, heart pounding, palms sweaty, carrying nothing with her but today’s paper and her life’s work pressed carefully between the pages of the classifieds. She passes an old man reading the same paper she has clutched in her hands, today’s date sprawled across the front page; March 18th, 2027. It’s a momentous day; she hopes someday history remembers it.

It has been eight years since the government gave itself full freedom to monitor the digital activities of every citizen, including everything from your exact GPS location, to where you bought your morning coffee. She can’t even check out a book here without it being tracked. So instead she had spent her days in the medical library with meticulous hand-written notes and every book she could find about cancer, each of them back on their shelves by nightfall. She had carried on this tedious work with the maddening knowledge that the information she sought was never more than a few clicks away.

Citizen’s data had been used, among other things, for voter redistricting, and their democratic republic had covertly transformed into a corrupt authoritarian entity. Anything that did not help the bottom line of the corporations that now held the government’s purse strings was prohibited. The simple, cost-effective cure she had discovered instead of lengthy, expensive treatments would find her in much the same predicament as Gallileo, Lavoisier, Oldenburg, and the countless others before her who had challenged the world in the name of science.

But unlike history, she is not a lone scholar, but part of a vast underground network of doctors, researchers and scientists, secretly spreading information. They have been careful to leave behind no digital foot prints, nothing but an obsolete physical paper trail no one would think to follow.

She turns down the 7th row and searches the 4th shelf, because just like any rebellion, they thrived on hope, and symbols held a certain power. She pulls down volume 17, coated in dust (it’s tax code and carries little threat of ever being read on purpose), opens to page 76 and leaves a dozen or so pages of hope to be spread to millions.

As she leaves, she passes the old man with the newspaper, and he does not make eye contact, but gives a nearly imperceptible nod of his head which she does not outwardly acknowledge.

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2016 Scholarship Winner

Topic: We Own the Future

Picture yourself in 2050. How will the evolution of the Internet affect our social structure and/or the authority governments have over citizens?

As I step outside for the first time in days, my eyes struggle to adjust to the glare. Activated by the sunlight, the GPS in my contacts orients itself and points me in the direction of SeCUREity’s Madison headquarters. Thanks to the incessant growth of technology and the Internet, much of a middle-class urban resident’s daily life occurs online. It’s 2050 now, and I’m on my way to an in-person meeting that could shape the next few years of my life.

2045 was the year everything changed. For decades, scientists had been relentlessly working towards more interactive and collaborative technologies. Although they’d been struggling since the mid-2030s, June 13th, 2045 marked a breakthrough. A leading technology company, Eyeful, Inc., released their incredible “WorldView” Internet-enabled contact lenses. These were created to project the online world into the air before a user, enabling them to navigate through the resulting holograph using their hands. Unfortunately, for the contacts to work, users had to temporarily upload their minds’ content to the Internet, with the optic nerve as the lenses’ link to their brain. But because the technology had not advanced enough to support a complete upload, users would have to sync and take down their brain content every day. The necessity of this coming and going, along with the inadequacy of the existing security made established protection for the digital brains impossible, leaving them vulnerable to private agencies and individuals trying to reap information. Nevertheless, school and work could now be easily attended online and at home. With so much ease and relative convenience, contact usage quickly encompassed almost everyone’s lives.

But it didn’t take long for the government to realize that the contacts posed a huge security risk. Masquerading as a reasonable effort to safeguard citizens everywhere, the Digital Brain Activity Protection Act was passed on September 6th, 2045. Under this act, WorldView contact users would be required to install government-issued firewalls around their digital brains. Although these firewalls worked well to keep prying companies and criminals at bay, they were hiding something--a filter heavily censoring a variety of sites deemed “suspicious” by the government. This news emerged after 6 weeks of firewall use, and a public uproar ensued. Most people agreed that the firewalls themselves were reasonable, but undisclosed censorship was reprehensible. As a result, curious citizens were unable to do non-work-related research. Families were unable to connect with children on the other side of the world because the only permitted communication sites weren’t available in some other countries. But no matter how much picketing, protesting, and petitioning occurred, the government refused to back down.

The proceeding uproar has continued for almost 5 years, but an alternative has finally arisen. SeCUREity is a company dedicated to providing Internet privacy, safety, and freedom all in one package. Their protective Internet service acts as a flexible, filtering shield around a user’s brain as they navigate the web, keeping potentially harmful people and information out. Because it travels with the user, SeCUREity allows people to freely explore the Internet without concern for their privacy and safety. It’s easily added as an implant to the WorldView contacts, where it encrypts each piece of data from a user’s brain as it uploads to the Internet. With this technique, SeCUREity provides a convenient opportunity for the government to ease up on restrictions and resume protecting instead of controlling its people. That’s why I set out this morning on my way to obtain SeCUREity’s service with a hope that I, and surely many others, haven’t felt in a long while--that soon, I could be free.

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2016 Scholarship First Runner-up

Topic: We Own the Future

Picture yourself in 2050. How will the evolution of the Internet affect our social structure and/or the authority governments have over citizens?

An old man sits on his comfortable couch, looking out the window, watching the trees sway with the gentle breeze and the birds singing. A large screen on the wall updates to show the weather: 68 degrees with a light west breeze, 10:17 a.m. May 3, 2050. A moment later his eyeglasses flash with the same update. The old man glances over to the glasses sitting on the table, a fine layer of dust accumulating on them.

An electronic jingle from the wall screen grabs the old man's attention, and he turns to see the notice on the screen. It indicates that a Mr. Garvey is driving up the driveway and will be at the door momentarily. He reluctantly lifted himself up off the couch and walks toward the front door. He waits patiently, gazing at the camera feed and opens the door just as Mr. Garvey arrives at the door.

Mr. Garvey looks at the old man with a startled look on his face, with a toothy grin looking back at him. “Oh, I, I, uh, wasn't expecting you, uh, to be-”er how much picketing, protesting, and petitioning occurred, the government refused to back down.

“You thought I was dead, didn't you?” the old man said, smiling.

“Well, yes I did, actually.” Mr. Garvey replied “according to your personal data feed, you haven't moved in six days. Your house's inside camera feeds seem to be partially blocked by houseplants and there has been no significant internet activity in the past week. As your assigned social caregiver, I am required by federal law to ensure your well-being and monitor your general health, and our network indicated you might be deceased or possibly 'off-grid'.”

The old man sighed. “I guess you're thinking I could be one of those 'privacy fundamentalists' you young people see in the news feeds. Well, I'm sorry to tell you, I'm just old-fashioned, I'm no longer receiving cultural updates. I don't care to look at the world through transparent screens, even if it enhances my vision. I keep my screen on the weather channel because that's the only kind that interests me. All those other feeds, webnet news? Heck, people have been complaining about government, politicians, taxes, the economy, civil rights, rich people, guns, crime, and everything else under the sun since before I was born! I lost interest in those arguments and conversations when I was your age.”

“I am fully aware that your government databases have flagged me as a case that requires further scrutiny. One of you government employees actually show up to my door every few months to check up on me as the file gets passed around. For your system and for people your age, old men like me don't really fit in to current society anymore. You know what, I'm fine with that. Societies are meant to change as well as the people in it, I just change at my own pace.”

Mr. Garvey had a look of bewilderment on his face, so the old man grabbed his jacket and walked out the front door, closing it behind him. “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going down to the community center to flirt with the old ladies.”

As the old man walked down the path, Mr. Garvey turned around to face him and asked “Aren't you going to let your car drive you there? You would get there in five minutes.”

“It's a nice day today” the old man replied. “I'm going to walk.”

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2016 Scholarship Second Runner-up

Topic: Privacy Advocates

Discuss the logic of this famous quote by Edward Snowden:

“Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

The Indivisibility of Freedom

In December of 2014, Forbes published the article, “Let’s Face It, We Don’t Really Care about Privacy,” in which the author argues that we as consumers have chosen cost convenience and digital personalization over privacy. The algorithms engineered by Internet giants like Google and Facebook have customized everything from the ads we see to our search results, allowing each of us to live in our own digital microcosm. This personalization seems to have perpetuated the idea that anything not directly relevant to our lives is unworthy of our time. It follows that we are seldom willing to fight for principles or freedoms that we do not think we “need,” privacy being one. The fallacy in this logic, though, is that we are looking at freedom as something that can be compartmentalized, as if freedom of every kind is not built on privacy, as if autonomy does not require room for independent thought and action.

Our nation’s earliest leaders considered privacy important enough to make it a Constitutional right. The Fourth Amendment protects United States citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures” unless the state has “probable cause” to believe the law is being broken. If a citizen does provide probable cause, he or she surrenders his or her right to privacy. Our First Amendment right to freedom of speech is similarly limited. We may say anything we wish so long as we are not committing slander, making threats, committing treason, etc. This freedom within the limits of the law stems from the democratic concept of the social contract—citizens exchange a certain measure of freedom for protection from the state.

When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the National Security Agency in June of 2013, citizens were outraged at the government’s breach of our social contract. Digital information American citizens thought they had kept private was in fact available for what many would consider “unreasonable search and seizure.” We did not provide probable cause, but the NSA searched anyway. Despite widespread backlash, some argue that the government should have access to all of this information, as those who have nothing to hide should also have nothing worry about. Calling on the Bill of Rights to remind us how crucial privacy is, Snowden responded to this opinion by saying, “Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say.” History has proven that failure to speak on behalf of those whose rights are being infringed upon, even if you are not one of the oppressed, can have serious ramifications. Holocaust survivor Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came” (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum) poignantly illustrates the danger of only concerning ourselves with our own freedom.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Perhaps our Founding Fathers guaranteed us the right to privacy for the same reason they guaranteed us every other freedom in the Bill of Rights. They recognized the indivisibility of freedom. They knew restriction of privacy breeds restriction of independent thought, and restriction of thought breeds restriction of every freedom and right we hold dear.

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Contest rules

  1. Essays must be written in English.
  2. Applicants must be currently enrolled in either a high school, undergraduate school, or graduate school located in the United States or United Kingdom.
  3. There is no age or citizenship requirement.
  4. Essays must be sent via email only, to this address: To be valid, the application email must include the following information:
    • Your name
    • The name, address, and contact details of your school
    • Your current grade level
  5. One entry per student. Multiple entries per student will be disregarded.
  6. Essays must be submitted online by August 31, 2018, no later than 11:59 PM, Pacific Standard Time.
  7. The winner will be announced by the end of October, 2018. The prize will be awarded by international wire transfer. The winner will be required to provide his/her bank information in order to complete the bank transfer.
  8. The winner must submit a valid ID and proof of enrollment in a high school, undergraduate school, or graduate school located in the United States or United Kingdom.
  9. Employees of ExpressVPN and their immediate family members are not eligible for this contest.
  10. All entries become the property of ExpressVPN. The contest winner agrees to allow ExpressVPN to publish or print his/her name and essay.
  11. Winners will be solely responsible for any federal, state, or local taxes.
  12. The prize is listed and paid in United States Dollars (USD).
  13. The decision of ExpressVPN in respect of any dispute arising out of this program shall be final.

About ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is a popular VPN service provider with apps for Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Linux. ExpressVPN was founded in 2009 with the purpose of making it easy for everyone to use the internet with security, privacy, and freedom, and actively supports various organizations fighting to protect privacy worldwide. They operate over 148 servers in 94 countries.

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