Public, private, and secret

Ikhtisad Ahmed

The development of privacy laws with regards to data is a recent and subjective phenomenon


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The 19th and 20th centuries were stories of rights and civil liberties for the subject of human rights. They were not being invented, rather the Western world that insists on them being enforced today finally realised that they existed, and reluctantly relented to the demands of respecting them from those they claim to be superior to now.

The 21st century is about privacy. True to form, the developed world is adamant about falling on the wrong side of the line between liberty and security. As with the struggles of the past, the movement to correct them has not hit critical mass since the egregious violations are simultaneously well concealed and spun as being paramount for the safety of the people.

In addition to being so kind to the citizens – a fallible argument that is accepted as the gospel truth by the vast majority, thus breeding apathy – they have not yet reached the tipping point of encroaching on privacy, as they did with slavery and women’s suffrage to name but two, at least not that the people are aware.

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights expressly refers to privacy, alongside family, home, and correspondence. National laws, be they constitutions or statutes, largely interpret this narrowly, with the overriding view being that the right to privacy extends only in the service of other rights, such as those stated in the aforesaid article.

Thus, the development of privacy laws with regards to data is a recent and subjective phenomenon. It was conceptualised in the US in the 1970s as the Fair Information Practices, aimed at ensuring that the sharing of information was ethical. The European Convention on Human Rights, originally drafted without protection for privacy, included it along the same lines as the Universal Declaration.

It has subsequently been further defined in the West by additional legal instruments. The trend to extend the limits of privacy, however, has been reversed. The circumstances under which it is acceptable to breach privacy – the fail-safe for extreme situations – became progressively broader, reaching a point where individuals are better off asking about the circumstances under which they have privacy rather than when they do not.

Those living elsewhere in the technology-reliant world will be relieved to know that this applies only to the developed world. The reason for this, of course, is that privacy as a doctrine is yet to exist anywhere else.

While privacy is not enshrined in the letter of domestic laws, it is stupidity of the highest order to suggest that its spirit does not instruct these laws, that the omission was nefariously planned, or that its absence is a signal of intent to keep it from ever being recognised as a right.

There is no hope for the world if the leaders who abuse this legal oversight to wrestle privacy away from the populace are, indeed, that stupid. If, on the other hand, they are fully aware of their unconscionable abuse, of very much doing to everyone else what they would not want done to themselves, then they are not worthy of being leaders, and should certainly not be trusted.

Frightening people allows governments to pass draconian laws that restrict civil liberties and violate human rights, all the while justifying it as necessary, even as the only correct action. The anti-privacy laws – and they cannot be called anything but – are tantamount to legalising theft, robbery, and burglary.

Private citizens fall foul of the law when they indulge in such activities. Governments, government instruments, and governmental organisations purport to be held to the same standard. In this instance, it is imperative that they are. Unless any individual grants the right of access to his or her property – physical or virtual – to another individual, it is illegal to forcibly access it.

A piece of paper saying otherwise does not change that fact. It is merely proof that governments are prone to acting unlawfully, or at the very least, endorsing such actions. Cloaking it in baseless hypotheses about it being essential for security, and invoking the dreaded terrorism argument, are unjust and unconscionable.

If they really wanted to keep the people safe, they would stop breeding terrorists – those worthy of the title and have either been labelled as such or not by virtue of having the blessings of the West – rather than showing a lack of respect for the rights and lives of their citizens. The hierarchy of the world is people, animals, and plants above governments, not the reverse.

Source: Dhaka Tribune

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