Invading privacy

Isn’t it an act of human rights violation?

Sajad Bazaz
Srinagar, Publish Date: Jan 19 2018 11:02PM | Updated Date: Jan 19 2018 11:02PM
Invading privacyRepresentational Pic

Incredible! But true. You may get a call on your mobile number from Prime Minister Narendra Modi or any other dignitary leaving you breathless for a moment. Before you get into a fix whether to attend the call or ignore it, let me tell you that it may be a call from the personal number of the prime minister or any dignitary. But the person speaking to you would be someone else – definitely a hacker. This is a peculiar situation confronting us in today’s age of informationalization and internationalization where contemporary times have lost borders in terms of communication and trans-border flow of data.

This informationalization and internationalization, as all of us know, is driven by technology, which is continuously upgrading and undergoing transformation. Of course, this information technology (IT) revolution has brought in huge convenience to the people in all walks of life. But at the same time, this paradigm shift has given rise to unique problems - ethical as well as juridical. Under this tsunami of IT revolution people seem to have been unwittingly surrendering (mostly compelled to do so) their right of privacy. At the same time, on ethics front behaving honourably and attaining basic good qualities has been emerging as a big challenge as this IT revolution has put ethics on stake.

Let me explain. It’s through technology tools that the gathering, storage, retrieval and dissemination of information is carried out with ease and that too most accurately. But here it has ethical impact when it comes to accessibility of such information. To whom this information of a citizen is to be made available or denied or even manipulated determines its ethical part. It becomes easier to access a person's private information by more people, if ethics are thrown to wind. The manipulation of information through technological tools is one of the easiest things to do. Anybody’s private information can be repacked, merged with unsolicited information and altered to harm a person. Thus, the use of technology in the processing of information bears a big question mark on ethical front.

Basically, mapping personal details through Aadhaar is emerging as a major threat to the right of privacy of the citizens in the country. The data collected while registering people under Aadhaar scheme and its subsequent leakage to unnecessary quarters as reported in media is emerging as a cause of concern. Pertinently, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance too had opined that the Aadhaar scheme is ‘full of uncertainty in technology as the complex scheme is built upon untested, unreliable technology and several assumptions’. 

Precisely, Aadhaar has raised the concerns pertaining to the individual’s right to privacy. This right restrains government and other agencies to threaten the privacy of individuals. It’s defined as “The right to privacy is protected as an intrinsic part of the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 and as a part of the freedoms guaranteed by Part III of the Constitution.” 

Notably, though the right to privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held that Right to Privacy is a fundamental right under Article 21. Article 21 is protection of life and personal liberty No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

So, the right to privacy means that one's personal information is to be protected from public scrutiny. Once a person's privacy is not respected, it means the person’s freedom stands curbed and he/she ceases to be an independent human being.

The use of technology for the processing of personal and other forms of private information has individual and socio-economic effects. At individual level, any leakage (most of the times it is inadvertent) of purely personal information which has been mapped by the government or any agency is simply loss of dignity. It can automatically put curbs on the freedom of an individual.  On the socio-economic front, the biggest effect is the growth of large information businesses that specialize in the processing and trade of person-related information. Here the use of personal information of an individual is done as a commodity.

So, what is needed in such risky atmosphere when citizens are compelled to share their personal details, is that such information must be handled with confidentiality. It’s necessary to invoke norms of freedom and human rights in a truthful manner while handling the personal information of individuals – be it security and control of access to the information, the right to use it, or the right to change or add any information. Otherwise, it’s an act of human rights violation.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)