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Privacy is Universal


Privacy is global in scope. Though our thoughts may center on how specific governments, companies, and institutions use our personal information, the framework for the relationship is far broader. In a globally networked world, privacy is an international concern.

Many consider privacy a universal right, similar to the freedom of expression and democracy. If we take the position that privacy is for humans we should work towards establishing a society where privacy is available for all people, regardless of their nationality, language, religion, socio-economic status, age or gender. We can promote this ideal at home and abroad.

Indeed, privacy was a major issue at the United Nations-backed Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in Istanbul at the beginning of September. The IGF describes itself as “an open, inclusive and transparent forum for dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance. It is intended to foster a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities and address the challenges that arise.” More than 3,300 participants attended the conference, including government ministers, industry leaders, and tech experts. The idea is to gather the advocates and representatives to tackle key issues that “may determine the evolution of the Internet.”

The theme for this year’s forum was “Connecting Continents for Enhanced Multistakeholder Internet Governance.” An emphasis was placed on collaboration of institutions and governments and strengthening the evolving multistakeholder model for Internet governance. Coordinating this conversation on maintaining the rule of law and interoperability of the global internet is a daunting task, but as IGF Chair Ilham Habibie stated in a recent article, “the inclusive, bottom-up Internet governance model is key to the global community’s ability to adapt and effectively address changing technologies and issues.”

There were over 100 events at the forum, with many covering internet privacy issues such as freedoms of expression, identity theft, mobile device security and authentication, and digital surveillance. Other panels included discussions on enhancing digital trust, and how to increase the UN Human Rights Council’s involvement on the topic of online privacy.

Privacy As A Human Right

“In December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 68/167, which expresses deep concern at the negative impact that surveillance and interception of communications may have on human rights. The General Assembly affirmed that the rights held by people offline must also be protected online, and it called upon all States to respect and protect the right to privacy in digital communication. The General Assembly called on all States to review their procedures, practices and legislation related to communications surveillance, interception and collection of personal data and emphasized the need for States to ensure the full and effective implementation of their obligations under international human rights law.”

The report goes on to acknowledge that privacy should be a universal right given the global reach of technology, and that given its reach will extend across all segments of society, all should have equal access to data security and protections under the law.

This includes the “right to protection against arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence.”

Intergenerational Protection Is Part Of Universal Privacy

Privacy is also universal in the sense that its issues cut across generations as well as geographical boundaries. Last week the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released new rules intended to protect children online. The Guidelines for Industry on Child Online Protection advises on ways to advance children’s rights and facilitate responsible digital citizenship.

The Guidelines call for a comprehensive response to the online risks facing children and partnerships across multiple stakeholder groups, including governments, companies, civil society, parents and educators.

“The technology industry has a critical role to play in establishing the foundations for safer and more secure use of Internet-based services and other technologies – for today’s children and future generations. Businesses must put protecting children at the heart of their work, paying special attention to protecting the privacy of young users’ personal data, preserving their right to freedom of expression, and putting systems in place to address violations of children’s rights when they occur. Where domestic laws have not yet caught up with international law, business has an opportunity – and the responsibility – to bring their business practices in line with those standards.”

Five key areas are listed in the report regarding where companies can protect children’s safety and promote the positive use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). These areas include:

1. Integrating child rights considerations into all appropriate corporate policies and management processes.

2. Developing standard processes to handle child sexual abuse material

3. Creating a safer and age appropriate online environment

4. Educating children, parents and teachers about children’s safety and their responsible use of ICTs

5. Promoting digital technology as a mode for increasing civic engagement

Why See Privacy As Universal?

Maintaining awareness of privacy as a global concern can help reinforce your own privacy practice. When we see privacy from the worldwide perspective we have a broader sense of connection to the inherent value to protecting and preserving our privacy. When we step outside ourselves we can more effectively consider how others struggle with their own privacy awareness and maintaining a privacy practice and we can advocate that governments and institutions like the UN and the IGF continue to support global privacy values.

“Man lives consciously for himself, but is an unconscious instrument in the attainment of historic, universal, aims of humanity” Leo Tolstoy

Though you may overwhelmed at times by your decision to sustain a conscious awareness of how you value your information, remembering that privacy is universal can help you feel less alone in the practice. When you promote the right to privacy for yourself, you defend the rights of others as well.

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