Let’s just be honest. Nothing that you do online is truly “private” and at its crux, privacy is a façade. You’re kidding yourself if you believe otherwise.

The Preamble of Indian constitution opens with the glorious words “We the People..” but the tug-of-war between individual privacy and national security forces us to rethink it as “We the People under watch”. As assertive as it is, privacy is a fundamental right “guaranteed” but the shaking reliance on citizen privacy and indecisive debates against security brings the sphere back on determining the scope of these provisions and even harder to strike a balance between the two.

With the widened potential of technological equations used by shadowy agencies, capacity to collect, sort and analyze mass surveillance with tight chains in hands of government and private businesses and grown manifold. Talk about modern communications with sophisticated sensors, executed on devices compatible to gather and store incredible quantity of our data. These devices have been invited and whole heartedly adapted by us in the most intimate of our spaces of work, family and play, obviously owing to the unrivalled convenience and value they add to our lives. With this pace of digitalization, one of the most basic bedrocks of sustaining user trust becomes the privacy and security of user consumption. The virtue of interconnection did put us at ease but it also compromised integrity of the entire network, which in turn carries data related to other users. That’s exactly how digital risks multiply.

Role of government

Democracies, severely assert guard against violation of citizen’s rights. Not to miss out, their digital rights attacked by governments and corporate alike – or both in combination – no matter if the business is censoring on its own or behaving under pressure from authorities. The issue of internet regulation has its deepest roots in the dearth of knowledge and failure of transparency, owing to which an average citizen isn’t capable of recognizing the regulators and the regulations both. Internet, considering it conducive to democratic system, calls for public governance that expresses will of those governed. Governments constantly strive to justify digital surveillance on account of curbing crime and terror. But what’s noteworthy is that for the sake of safety governments do not actually require monitoring entire headcount, because put simply, technology makes digital surveillance easier. However, when democratic nations attempt this, it represents undermining of their own acclaimed ethos.

Role of Businesses

When corporate interests secure higher stakes over governance, it eventually results in hurting the freedom of expression. While citizens’ rights challenges the government to curb censorship and monitoring in a bid to uphold the global digital space, private companies find themselves as huge segment in the equation- however, the least likely to be held to account. Facebook is a platform shared by greater than one billion users, whose public and private information on its pages is the secret to its profits. However, it lays down rules for conversations within its space. Safe to say, so do several clubs, groups, newspapers and societies. But have you ever realized, telephone operators DO NOT have set rules in regard to what you can/cannot say in the telephonic exchange, eateries do not require you to filter aside what you can/cannot say inside. We’ve also witnessed global agencies like Google, Twitter responding to authorities’ directions of taking material down or defend certain information. This is what we refer to as privatization of censorship in digital sphere.

When states set out on uncontrolled thirst quenching mission of collecting and accumulating data, they set out on a total surveillance race, against its citizens. Some politically inclined would take no time to herald this as a move towards a police state. In a nation like India, politicians are replaced every five years, and the sole control of governance rests in the hands of bureaucrats. Taking most greedy advantage of the suspicion-caused-paranoia, they become the cleanest sources of privacy threat. In countries like the US, the courts dismissing such privacy invasions without evidence would come in handy. But who is to replicate this system of justified monitorship in India?

The pace of technology development has been unmatched by prevalent laws on privacy in India. The Information Technology Act 2001 did attempt to underline data protection, but failed at any productive outcome because privacy of sharing, disclosure and retention didn’t appear as a right under any law in action, inviting opportunities of abuse. The Privacy Bill 2010 which was expected to protect the fundamental right to privacy, centrally focused on unethical use of digital tools for recording citizens in public places without consent for commercial or criminal use. Interestingly, a new law, the National Identification Authority of India Bill 2010 was introduced which was set to issue unique identification number (Aadhaar) to every Indian. This simply meant a citizen’s biometric and demographic information instantly and handy.

In such times, the most optimum path is to legally limit access to the data such accumulated, while also limiting accumulation of this data. The best way to design systems logs is to let them keep private data for lesser time, in exceptions like court order for specific persons or groups.

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