The Right to Privacy: Don’t Tell Me I Have to Care!

I’ve already written on the subject of privacy several times, and will likely be regurgitating a lot of what I’ve said previously, but an article I read last week really pissed me off; Three Reasons Why the “Nothing to Hide” Argument is Flawed. It’s exactly this kind of absolutist nonsense [from both sides of the privacy ‘debate’] that makes true progress so bloody difficult.

Their first point:1) Privacy isn’t about hiding information; privacy is about protecting information, and surely you have information that you’d like to protect.” is backed up by several metaphors, one of which is “Do you close the door when you go to the bathroom?” Seriously? Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights qualifies the right to privacy with the word ‘arbitrary’:

“Article 12 – No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Every other treatise [that I’ve read] on privacy has a similar qualifier, which clearly infers that there can be very good reasons for ‘interference’. This is further supported by the fact that privacy is only a fundamental right, not an absolute right.

Their second point:2) Privacy is a fundamental right and you don’t need to prove the necessity of fundamental rights to anyone.“. If you’ve never read anything about privacy, you would think that a fundamental right is immutable and incontestable. It’s not. As Recital 4 of the GDPR phrases it; “The right to the protection of personal data is not an absolute right; it must be considered in relation to its function in society and be balanced against other fundamental rights, in accordance with the principle of proportionality.

In other words, your right to privacy must be put into context with EVERYONE else’s OTHER rights. e.g. Hypothetically, if I believed that ‘mass surveillance’ increases the safety of myself and my family, then your demand for privacy-first puts my loved ones directly in harms way. Therefore, my absolute (or ‘unalienable’) rights to what American’s call ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ are more important than you not being seen with your trousers around your ankles.

But then they go big and say: “We change our behavior when we’re being watched, which is made obvious when voting; hence, an argument can be made that privacy in voting underpins democracy.“, which is a ridiculous stretch. Democracy through a “cohesion produced by a homogenous people.”? Sure. Democracy through a ‘consensus on fundamental principles’? Absolutely. Democracy through “privacy in voting”? Get a bloody grip.

And their final point; “3) Lack of privacy creates significant harms that everyone wants to avoid.” is basically true. But their example of “You need privacy to avoid unfortunately common threats like identity theft, manipulation through ads, discrimination based on your personal information, harassment, the filter bubble, and many other real harms that arise from invasions of privacy.“, makes it sound like organisations and governments are forcing us to put this stuff online. WE have the choice about what personal data we expose online, and while there absolutely should be [more] checks and balances against Governments overstepping their bounds, and organisations like Google should be completely transparent in their dealings, we are the ones giving our personal data away in exchange for convenience.

You’ve probably heard the quote by 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.

If that’s true, I could argue that what most people actually do online is little different from someone who cuts out their tongue. Regardless of whether we have the RIGHT to privacy, it does not mean we HAVE privacy, and certainly not online. If it’s online, it’s exposed, so you have two choices:

  1. Don’t put it online, so no more online banking, Facebook, Amazon, and so on; or
  2. Put online only the things you don’t care about losing (i.e. no nude selfies), or can protect in other ways (i.e. insure your bank accounts)

To one degree or another we all trade our privacy for functionality. We all want the convenience of online banking, shopping, communication, and all the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. But did you really think this was free? Our right to privacy is both a privilege, and a currency, which means you have a responsibility to protect it, and a responsibly to spend it wisely respectively. Both of these responsibilities require you to NOT be ignorant, to educate yourselves and not rely on others to do it for you.

But in the end it has to remain a CHOICE! The ‘privacy-first’ side of the debate will NEVER agree with the ‘nothing-to-hide’ side, but like every fundamental right we have (and yes, democracy itself), this choice will be determined by the majority. So even though, as Snowden said; “[…] the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.“, the opposite is equally true; “The wishes of the minority cannot outweigh the wishes of the majority.” To put it another way, if a person wants total privacy, then they should have the right to have it, but not if that conflicts with the rights of the others.

What very few people address is the fact that my definition of privacy may be different from yours. You may think ‘secrecy’ is the best way to privacy, but I think ‘hiding in plain sight’ is more appropriate in the Information Age. The more that is known about me, the more unlikely it is that someone can pretend to BE me.

I could go on bitching, but there’s no point. I will not change your mind, and you will not change mine. The only difference is that I’m not going to try to shame you for your opinions, or even LACK of opinion. We choose the things we care about, and NO ONE can care about everything. As long as your decisions are not based on ignorance of the subject, do as you wish.

[If you liked this article, please share! Want more like it, subscribe!]

They’re Not Human Rights, They’re Human Privileges

This could potentially be my most contentious blog yet, but the very thing I am railing against [somewhat] is the very thing that allows me to post this in the first place; human rights, as enforced by my country’s laws and/or societal norms. MY society anyway.

My issue is not with human rights per se, they are a concept that should only become more important as the world gets smaller. Shared information available to an enormous distribution of mobile devices will, in theory, help combat the rampant ignorance across the globe, often enforced by oppressive government entities themselves. Just look at the ridiculous Twitter ban in Turkey for one of the milder examples. When everyone on the planet knows that they shouldn’t have to live under any totalitarian regime, human rights will provide the long-term road map for progress towards the freedom most of us take for granted.

My issue with human rights is the equal enforcement of them. As an extreme; why does someone convicted of multiple homicides have the same rights as someone who spends their whole life helping others? Yes, the killer may lose their freedom, but their rights as a human being are still in full effect. You take from someone everything they will ever have, and in my opinion, you are giving up some – and potentially all (depending on your crime(s)) – of your rights to be treated equally AS a human.

No, this is NOT a case for capital punishment, that’s too specific a judgment, this is about the fact that as species, there is no way we human beings will EVER reach a 100% consensus on anything, and we need to stop pretending that we can. The majority opinion must rule, as long as it’s not MOB rule, and the losing minority needs to abide by the prevailing decision. Criminals of every sort ALL have an opinion different from the majority, and it’s one they have likely acted upon. They think they are somehow exempt from doing the right thing, and in most ‘civilised’ nations those right things are instilled from childhood and reflect an accepted standard of ‘common decency’.

Do NOT steal, do NOT kill, do NOT take anyone by force and so on, but what about those countries where the established norms – if not the actual laws – are different? Can anyone reading this blog POSSIBLY justify the murder of the 11 people working for Charlie Hebdo just because they printed satirical matter and images related to their deity? Or any of the hundreds of terrorist attacks perpetrated for religious or political reasons across the globe? These things are REAL, but what makes US right? What makes US the arbiters of that common decency?

We’re the majority, that’s what gives us the right to condemn their actions. Anything other than treating everyone as you would wish to be treated yourself should be unacceptable in any society.

So we clearly need to stop pretending that as a species we are that evolved OR that civilised, and neither religion nor government should have the final say in what’s right and what’s wrong. We are all born with rights, but from that point forward they become a privilege every individual has the responsibility to maintain. All of our freedoms and all of our rights come at a cost, we must all be prepared to pay those costs.

In the end, humans are just another mammal, the attribution of instincts above layer 4 of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is admirable, and certainly an aspiration, but fighting a sociopath with rules is no different than making a wish by blowing out candles on a birthday cake. I will live my life by a simple set of self-imposed laws, and would hope everyone around me does the same;

The 5 Laws of Human Rights:

  • Everyone starts out in life with the same rights;
  • Everyone may utilise their rights to their own unqualified ends as long as those actions do not infringe on the rights of others;
  • Infringement of the rights of others will result in a loss of your rights equal to that inflicted on the other party(ies);
  • Use of rights for one’s own benefit comes with a risk of loss, everyone will accept personal responsibility for this loss; and
  • No-one shall take their rights for granted.

We need to stop pandering to those living outside the globally accepted norms of common decency, they have no place here with the rest of us.

[If you liked this article, please share! Want more like it, subscribe!]