We live in a society where it certainly feels like terror can strike anytime, anyplace and anywhere. Even more so after the attacks in Paris last Friday – people feel unsafe and strive after protection. This fear has resulted in an unprecedented amount of surveillance on civilians. Security agencies are tapping our phone lines, storing our emails and inspecting our browser history more than ever before. This trend has had an obvious impact on our privacy.
Today, we talked about this matter with Matthew Rice. He is an advocacy officer at Privacy International, an organization that tries to protect the human right called privacy. We asked Mr. Rice if giving up some of our privacy to ensure our safety might be worth the cause.
According to him, issues like this are often framed in a manner where privacy is on one end of a scale and security on the other. On this scale, if you move either one, the other is directly affected. On this scale, privacy and security seem to be like dark and light: They are not connected other than the fact that they are opposites. This paradox seems to be a false one. In many ways, privacy and security are connected. It is more appropriate to say that with privacy comes a certain level of security. This means that privacy, in essence, is something that we should want to secure.
We should take privacy seriously
Last Friday in Paris those people were attacked enjoying themselves under the protection of the French constitution. A constitution which protects the right to privacy. During these times, it is an understandable response wanting to create security above all. But, according to Mr. Rice, it would be a mistake to look at the constitution as a hurdle, as handcuffs, in this process towards security. If you do, if you take away privacy in order to achieve security, you end up eroding the very thing you are trying to protect.
In my opinion, Mr. Rice is right. Privacy is a fundamental part of our freedom and security. If knowledge is power, then having information about someone means having a certain amount of power over him. This power can be used or misused. This power over us limits our freedom, it limits the way we can be ourselves. In these times, it is critical that we do not make decisions based upon fear or anger. We should be patient and find a way to balance freedom, privacy and security in an appropriate and democratic manner. Getting there is a tremendously difficult task. The decision on what is private and what is not, or when it is appropriate to surveil an individual, should be made by all of us.
This means that we, as a people, need to speak up about our privacy. We should vocalize what information is ours and what we are willing to share. We should take privacy seriously. And I wonder, is this even possible when we are too ignorant to find out how the latest iTunes update impacts our privacy?