A blanket ‘human right’ approach to privacy limits action against the misuse of the right to privacy

By: | Published: May 10, 2018 4:25 AM

The EU has indeed spelled out recently what constitutes digital privacy—more accurately, data protection—for EU residents.

human rights, privacy, digital privacyDoes Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s call to treat privacy, in the digital age, as a “human right” really serve the cause of privacy?

Does Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s call to treat privacy, in the digital age, as a “human right” really serve the cause of privacy? Such a call shifts the current privacy debate into a rather risky terrain. To be sure, concerns over abuse of privacy and consent fatigue leading to individuals signing away sweeping usage of their data without really being aware of the consequences have made it necessary to give digital privacy serious thought. To that end, various jurisdictions, including India, are contending with defining privacy from the perspective of legislation and legal interpretation.

The EU has indeed spelled out recently what constitutes digital privacy—more accurately, data protection—for EU residents. On the other hand, the United Nations defines human rights as “rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status.” Most countries’ laws, various global conventions on human rights, quasi-legal bodies in certain jurisdictions, among others, would broadly agree with such a definition.

If privacy were to be indeed thought of as a human right, how are international conventions, regional agreements, etc, to look at such use of data that is deemed legal by, say, the US, but deemed illegal under the EU’s privacy law? Apart from the legal confusion from a blanket privacy law, such cover complicates matters for acting against misuse of a right to privacy. And, it is not just terrorists and paedophiles using the net to abuse the right to privacy—online hate-spewers do, too.

Against such a backdrop, making privacy a paramount human right is unwarranted. Privacy indeed should be thought of as a right, but the cover such a right must be defined judiciously. No one wants a Russia-/China-like denial of privacy. But the world shouldn’t have to deal with an ever-growing dark web, or restrictions on data use that limit digital companies from serving their users better or even anonymous cyber-bullying.

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