The very beginning of civilization is characterized by man building shelters to protect himself from predators and acquiring land. This later got transformed into property rights and associated privacy rights. Over the years we have had many people approaching the Court over invasions to their right to privacy- people aggrieved by other trespassing their property or police putting them under constant surveillance or even the LGBT rights activists – all claiming the contravention to their right to privacy. Indian Courts have so far managed to conveniently state that the right to privacy shall be determined on a case to case basis, instead of being read into the fundamental right to life. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court, with the Government’s counsel having vociferously spoken against the right to privacy.
We have all been subject to some kind of activity invading our privacy. For example, when your mum decided to open the package on the mail addressed to you even before you saw it or when the ‘friendly’ neighbourhood aunty wanted to know every single detail about your personal life and went so far as opening her blinds just a bit to see who the visitor in your house is. In instances like these, you just tend to roll your eyes and not make a fuss about it, somewhere accommodating nosiness as a part of our DNA. But have you ever seriously considered implications of modern technology on our private lives? What happens when the personal information you upload on social media sites in the belief that they will not be shared with anyone is actually given to third parties for their own purposes? Add to that the threat of hackers getting access to users’ information, as happened in the case of Ashley Madison, the infidelity dating site.
What prompts us as individuals who care quite a lot about our privacy to upload minute details of our lives on social media? (Remember the burglar who updated his location while robbing a house and subsequently got caught, quite hilarious, wasn’t it?) When Edward Snowden decided to tell the world that the USA was snooping on personal data in a bid to counter terrorist activities, most people were shocked and a little unhinged, considering the massive amounts of personal information available online (There were a few jokes that did the rounds those days. One said how Obama chides Manmohan Singh who is trying to send him an email, telling him he will just check his ‘Drafts’, no need to hit the ‘Send’ button. In fact, it was reported that terrorists trying to avoid detection would leave Drafts in their email without sending them).
The State wanting to protect me is well and good, but it does not warrant reading personal conversations and looking at my activities on the internet to determine if I am a threat to society. Forget States trying to prevent terrorism, look at big corporations. I mean, do you like it when one day you are browsing through some book on an online shopping site and the next day have related ads plaguing other pages you visit. That’s the internet keeping a track of everything you might even be remotely interested in and it is called customer service, not amounting to invasion of privacy. In fact, research suggests that most users of the internet, especially social media, are part of various social experiments trying to ascertain behavioural patterns on the World Wide Web. .
Are we to believe that in this technology ridden world, some aspect of our private lives will be public, considering the massive amounts of data online? Of course, the government has a few provisions in place protecting our privacy online. The Information Technology Act makes it mandatory for corporations to handle users’ online information in a responsible manner, incorporating the role of consent in divulging personal data and putting up privacy policies. However, monitoring and interception by law enforcement agencies of personal activities on electronic means is permitted. Therefore, even phone tapping is allowed if it is duly authorized. The A.P. Shah Committee came up with National Privacy Principles which cover a wide range of details of concern to the public using online services such as giving notice about what information is collected and the purpose of its collection, with limits on the usage of such data and obtaining consent for disclosure to third parties. Offline, we have provisions for reporting cases of voyeurism (yes, being a Peeping Tom is a crime and installing tiny cameras in changing rooms to fulfil morbid fantasies can lead to trouble).
One can only be careful when revealing personal information online, use your instincts when deciding what and what not to share. Keep complex passwords (‘Password’ is too easy to crack, dear) and Do Not write down passwords and ATM PINs on tiny pieces of paper that you intend to carry on your being. Don’t get tempted by those emails congratulating you on having won a million dollars or a beautiful and hot female wanting to be friends, they never mean well. Be wise, use technology responsibly.