Human Rights, Privacy, Technology, and Compatibility
“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.” -Edward Snowden, Reddit, 2015
The issue of privacy and human rights has always been vigorously debated, and it seems that the global discussion has only intensified in recent years. Although it is recognized as a fundamental human right by many countries through various constitutions, charters and legal acts, privacy is often being deliberated on in the public sphere, and the scopes of these discussions go far beyond any single political or social issue. As technology advances, we are exposed to new kinds of discussions on privacy and on the ways in which we conduct ourselves in both the virtual and the 'actual' world. In addition, violations of the right to privacy continue to be a concern since the fight against global terrorism demands the expansion of government capabilities as to how much private information can be collected and analyzed. However, such information does not pertain only to counter-terrorism – governments and agencies collect information about the health, the finances and the communications of private individuals.
There is something quite elusive about privacy, and there are many ways to define it. It has to do with the very basis of our dignity and freedom as human beings, yet often we are actively willing to give it up, or ignore when it is being taken away
from us. Discussions about privacy are manifold, as they are linked to topics such as big data, mass surveillance, government interventionism and the operations of tech giants. The right to privacy is meant to defend individuals from any intrusion by governments or other individuals that threaten their privacy. Intelligence agencies have enormous power and resources to collect all kinds of private information; however, the implementation of mass surveillance has been justified as a means of combating terrorism and other kinds of violent acts. This tug of war between security and privacy is not a new one, but it takes a different shape as technological means evolve. Privacy is naturally linked to information technology; as this technology becomes more and more sophisticated, it becomes easier to collect information from individuals. Individuals themselves generate enormous amounts of information when simple tasks such as communicating with one another, or paying for a certain product, are done online and documented forever.
The tipping point in recent years was, of course, Edward Snowden, who in 2013 revealed a number of secret worldwide surveillance programs run by the NSA and other US agencies. Snowden's actions have ignited countless discussions on government secrecy and the limits of intervention; his actions changed the ways in which tech companies treat private information and our own individual perceptions on what governments can and cannot do. D
emands for adequate legislation and public debates are still present in our current political climate; recently, discussions sprung among the Dutch public as to a new surveillance law, giving government agencies further power to collect data from large groups of people. A referendum on this law will be held this upcoming March.
PS: The AISA Academy series will host a lecture on privacy and human rights with Dr. Bart van der Sloot this coming Sunday, January 21, at 20:00. Join us at Plan C, Smaragdplein 24, Amsterdam!