Right to Privacy in Digital Times

Almost everything we do today, from money transactions, purchasing products, communication to ordering our meals, is digitalized and in this digitalized world, the issue of privacy is often disregarded because these new digital technologies are substantially facilitating our lives. However, recently, especially after the controversial policy update of ‘WhatsApp’ which has over 1,5 billion users and forcing people to accept the terms, the issue of privacy came up again and caused anger towards the company, even many people preferred alternative apps by deleting WhatsApp. Therefore, the purpose of today’s paper is to detect the sort of problems that people face with advancing technologies, the meaning of the right to privacy and its human rights perspective, and the ways to preserve this right of people.

According to October 2020, “almost 4,66 billion people were active internet users, encompassing 59 percent of the global population”.[1] The proportion proves how important the internet is for people. The use of social media platforms, surfing on the internet, finding all kinds of knowledge on websites has become an undeniable aspect of our lives. However, every movement of us leaves a footprint on the virtual world, and tech companies are not allowing us to use their platforms without conceding some of our personal info. What do they do with the personal data that they are collecting? For instance, “many apps ask permission to track your precise location through your phone's GPS which users can refuse, but still visible to the company”[2]. These big amounts of data can be also sold to other companies for advertisement purposes. These services are making the majority of their money from selling user information to advertisers to provide accurate ads to the right people that are more likely to be interested in the advertisement.[3] The inappropriate sharing of users’ information has led to the investigation of the Facebook company by the US authorities in 2019. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has investigated allegations Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million users with British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and issued $5bn dollars punishment to the company.[4] However, private companies are not the only agencies that collect personal data and information. As well as companies, states are also able to breach the privacy of people with their surveillance abilities by tracking people’s e-mails, spying on phone calls. Therefore, with these privacy problems, what needs to be done in this point is to determine what we mean by the right to privacy.


Defining the right to privacy

The basic definition of the right to privacy is made in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is ''no one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks'' [5]. However, we need to emphasize that this definition is the traditional definition of the right to privacy. Thus, it must be evolved into the right to privacy in the digital age[6]. So, in addition to the principles in Article 12 of the Declaration, digital privacy in its simplest version can be described as the protection of the information of the private citizens who use digital mediums.[7] Since privacy means a sort of ‘private sphere’ that should not be shared with outside this sphere and intervened by any other institution, digital privacy is also something private and should not be shared with others without any consent. “In the digital environment, informational privacy, covering information that exists or can be derived about a person and his/her life and the decisions based on that information, is of particular importance”.[8]



What can be done to preserve digital privacy?

  • Firstly, “there is an urgent need for the strongest involvement of civil society. Without the engagement of citizens, customers, users, and individuals driving the momentum behind digital communications, all other efforts to preserve digital privacy is naught” [9].

  • Some conferences can be organized and publications to be made in order to raise public awareness. By doing this, pressure can be put on the public and private sectors that are able to access individuals’ private data.

  • States also should take appropriate steps to ensure that victims of business-related human rights abuse have access to an effective remedy. [10] For the governments’ surveillance on it's citizens, it has to be based on legal grounds and laws should not grant excessive rights for states to track people’s data.

  • Business-enterprises should also ensure a high level of security and confidentiality of any communications they transmit and personal data they collect, store or otherwise process. [11]


NOTES

1. https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/#:~:text=Almost%204.66%20billion%20people%20were,percent%20of%20total%20internet%20users.

2. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-44702483

3. https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1430&context=honorsprojects

4. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/facebook-data-privacy-scandal-settlement-cambridge-analytica-court-a9003106.html

5. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

6. https://www.iotforall.com/human-rights-iot-right-to-privacy

7. https://www.easytechjunkie.com/what-is-digital-privacy.htm

8. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/39/29

9. https://publishup.uni-potsdam.de/opus4-ubp/frontdoor/deliver/index/docId/39926/file/srp03.pdf

10. https://undocs.org/A/HRC/39/29

11. Ibid.