surveillance

Surveillance is a Fact of Life, so Make Privacy a Human Right

The harsh reality that we face as a society is that, despite our best efforts, global surveillance is here to stay. World governments, multinational corporations, and ultra-rich individuals have access to data that 30 years ago would have been considered off-limits. Your very existence is up for sale to the highest bidder, and no matter how much you fight it, this will not change.

How do we counter this? The plan must be multifaceted, but an excellent place to start would be gaining official recognition of privacy as a human right. Widely recognized as the legal basis for human rights, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be used to form an argument for privacy.

What will follow is an analysis of various articles of the Universal Declaration and how privacy fits into them. Not all articles fit into this argument. However, a good number of them do. It is these that will be used to bolster the case for making privacy an official human right in an updated, modern definition.

Learn the difference between privacy vs. security.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Global privacy violations allow for influential organizations to do the exact opposite of this. Through global surveillance, specific groups can be targeted at will to serve an oppressive agenda. Be they activists, ethnic or religious minorities, and much more, the lack of right to privacy strips individual humans of basic dignity.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.

As long as an individual can be targeted in their private life by powerful entities (governments, corporations, etc.), there is no possible way to state they are living a life of liberty and security.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and any incitement to such discrimination.

Surveillance allows legal systems to be skewed so that otherwise inadmissible evidence is permitted in a courtroom. The United States’ Patriot Act, for instance, allowed for warrantless wiretapping. Ordinarily, any evidence found in a warrantless wiretap would be thrown out by a judge. Using the privacy-violating policies of the Patriot Act, however, the law can be warped as long as an individual is deemed an enemy of the state.

Article 12.

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.

This is an explicit statement within the Universal Definition of Human Rights that there is a right to privacy. The problem here is that the definition is too broad. The Declaration was written in 1948, long before the global surveillance apparatus of today came into being. It is vital that the UN, and any other governing body of human rights, update their definitions so that legal loopholes are closed. 

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

If anything, most governments violate this article. Freedom of thought, if deemed “wrong think” by a governing body, is punished. The only way that state entities and corporations can know what an individual is thinking at all times is via surveillance.

By monitoring their phone conversations, SMS messages, internet activity, and much more, a government can actively persecute an individual for their thought, conscience, and religion. It happens all over the world, and yet nothing has honestly stopped it.

Learn about the 5 eyes alliance.

Conclusion

Until the definition of the right to privacy is updated and adopted globally, global surveillance will remain unchecked and entirely legal.

After countless scandals involving the 14 eyes, the PRISM program, numerous leaked documents (via Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and others) showing the private and public sector colluding against privacy, and much more, it is clear that privacy is genuinely not recognized as a human right. This must change.

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Ather Owais Ather Owais is a tech and cybersecurity enthusiast. He is a strong advocate for online privacy and security, following technological trends and their impact on today's digital era.

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