The privacy battle in the field of digital technologies is increasing in both speed and geographic scope. The volume of reporting on online privacy in the past few weeks suggests that people using Internet technologies have asked themselves at least once, ‘is my data secure online?’.
Last week the EU’s top court suspended the Safe Harbor agreement between the EU and the US. Safe Harbor allowed companies like Facebook and Google to transfer personal data of EU citizens to the US for as long as 15 years. However, as global surveillance programs in the US were proven to collect and analyze personal information of not only American citizens but also across borders, the EU is now trying to protect online privacy of its citizens with this ruling.
The EU court, in support of its decision, stated that access to online communications “must be regarded as compromising the essence of the fundamental right to respect for private life”. Here online privacy is approached as a fundamental human right, which we, as a society, must protect. However, IT industries insiders and tech innovators are more likely to offer a different opinion – that in the digital age it is not possible to keep data online 100% private, and we should get used to the new realities, accepting the risk of personal data breach where use of underlying technology is of bigger value.
The modern debate on online privacy can be seen then as a clash of rights – the right for individuals to exercise control over information about themselves and the right to utilize the benefits of digital technologies. Each side recognizes the same goal, the ‘witness ideal’ in which we have virtually unrestricted access to information about the world we inhabit, yet we are shielded from unintended privacy violations.
While governments are still preparing laws and attitudes for an increasingly digital world, people are left to navigate these issues on their own. The FOTODOK (No)Privacy exhibition is a live demonstration of how different our attitudes towards data privacy online can be. Many of us are unknowingly being witnessed by millions of street cameras around the globe, passively participating in the online information gathering deemed necessary for our safety and security (“Der Reisende“ by Jens Sundheim). At the same time, many people nowadays are proactively engaged in sharing their sexual lives via online couple webcams to earn money (“Tediousphilia” by Laia Abril). Here the clash of rights can observed in microcosm – a person may be offended by being spotted on a government security camera yet makes public his most intimate moments online.
The way to resolve this battle of rights is at the moment unclear. One hopes that the debates on online privacy encourage all participants to be aware of what they agree to in terms of personal data collection online and its consequences. It would not be wise to accept the freedom and convenience that modern technologies bring without understanding the associated risk of a deliberate or accidental misuse of personal data.
Text: Olga Kulikova
Photo: Jens Sundheim © The Traveller