Bring up the subject of protecting your privacy and you are likely to hear reactions like “I have nothing to hide, so it doesn’t worry me”. Or there are the people who think the battle to preserve this privacy is already lost because “They already know all about us” without really specifying who “They” are: governments, companies, politicians… it all depends on the conversation you are having.

This way of (not) considering the idea of the private sphere, that is to say, the right to your privacy, is dangerous on two levels. Firstly, because it implies that only the people who have something to hide or something to be ashamed of are concerned with protecting their private life. Obviously, this isn’t the case, but it is the logical conclusion to the response given above. Secondly, and this is much more insidious, this way of thinking suggests that we have accepted the fact that our lives are under constant surveillance. And, related to this, the idea that surveillance could only be dialled back once the “dissidents” are brought back in line with what the people in power see as conformity. 

In the business world, and for company managers, data protection often seems more like an obstacle to business rather than a subject worthy of consideration. And yet, they have everything to gain by developing a commercial relationship that is based on trust and transparency with their clients.  

A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

Maybe we, the citizens of the world, have already forgotten why the 58 member states of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, stating that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation.” (Article 12). Or even the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19). These rights were then strengthened in the European Convention on Human Rights. Following the Second World War, it seemed obvious that disregard for human rights had led to acts of incredible barbarity, and that a shared understanding of the fundamental liberties for human beings was needed to live in peace.

The fantastic advances in the field of electronic communications constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.
— Earl Warren, 14th chief justice of the United States (1953-1969)

 Beyond the visionary nature of this quote from the 1960s, let’s think about some examples closer to our own time:

·      Your banker has not correctly protected information about you and your personal data is made available to everyone on Twitter (personal wealth, family situation, employer(s), income, mortgage loan, invested capital, and addresses for your real estate, for example). Suddenly, you are afraid for your assets as well as the safety of your loved ones in case of burglary.

·      The clinic where you received your plastic surgery has been robbed of all their patient photos and is being blackmailed by cybercriminals. Having refused to pay the ransom demanded by the hackers, they have now changed targets and are threatening to publish your nude photos on the internet.

·      Although you’ve never given your consent, a surveillance system in your TV lets your telecom provider know about all the programmes you’ve been watching. This data is then sold on to third parties for targeted advertising. 

·      A head of state thinks it is right to ban all Muslims from certain countries from entering their territory. Concerns are raised denouncing the use of databases to identify every Muslim. (Since then, it seems that the pages concerned have been “lost”).

In my eyes, the strengthening of data protection laws should be welcomed positively by all of us. Misunderstandings about our rights coupled with the carelessness with which some people share everything on social media, have meant that several companies have collected a huge amount of personal data, without necessarily having a specific goal in mind for what they will do with it all. Now, however, this data could be used against them. 

 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS

Consenting to data processing and storage, or the right to accessing information about ourselves, or even being able to correct false information, are some of our basic rights. It is still important to know what they are and how they can be used. To learn more, I recommend visiting the very interactive and well-designed CNIL website, (this has obvious value for French citizens, but the general principles are still valuable for Swiss citizens, too).

WHAT ABOUT COMPANIES?

Obviously, rights for some are obligations for others! But that’s not always the case. Developing communication technologies creates opportunities for every economical sector. Good control over your information assets is also something to help you stand out from the competition and offer a better experience to your clients. 

To learn more, read my post on data governance for companies.

If you’ve reached the end of this article, I guess that this is a subject that is of interest to you…so I recommend that you take the time to watch the brilliant speech by Glenn Greenwald at TEDGlobal2014. This journalist is very committed to explaining the Snowden affair, and has even published a book on it. In his speech, he talks about the necessity of fighting to protect the right to a private sphere.