The right to privacy is a enshrined in article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), article 17 in the legally binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and in article 16 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). Many national constitutions and human rights documents mention the right to privacy. In the US Constitution, it isn’t explicitly stated, but experts infer it from several amendments, including the Fourth Amendment. It outlines that people have the right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” In many cases, the US Supreme Court has upheld the right to privacy. There are also many privacy laws designed to protect personal data from the government and corporations. The rise of the internet has complicated privacy laws and many believe that the law has fallen behind. In the United States, there is no central federal privacy law. The right to privacy also intersects with many other human rights such as freedom of expression, the right to seek, receive and impart information and freedom of association and assembly.
Why do privacy rights matter so much? Here are 10 reasons why:
#1. Privacy rights prevent the government from spying on people (without cause)
The government has a responsibility to protect its citizens, but it often crosses the line when it comes to surveillance. In 2013, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s spying program, bringing the issue of privacy into the spotlight. The balancing act between national security, freedom of expression, surveillance and privacy rights is tricky. It’s generally agreed upon that if the government doesn’t have a reason to spy on someone, it shouldn’t. No one wants to live in a Big Brother state.
#2. Privacy rights keep groups from using personal data for their own goals
When in the wrong hands, personal information can be wielded as a powerful tool. The Cambridge Analytica scandal is a perfect example of this. This organization used data taken from Facebook (without user consent) to influence voters with political ads. Privacy rights mean that groups can’t take your data without your knowledge/consent and use it for their own goals. In a time where technology companies like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others collect and store personal information, privacy rights preventing them from using the data how they please are very important.
#3. Privacy rights help ensure those who steal or misuse data are held accountable
When privacy is recognized as a basic human right, there are consequences for those who disrespect it. While there are many “soft” examples of personal data use, like targeted ads, established privacy rights draw a line in the sand. Without these restrictions, corporations and governments are more likely to steal and misuse data without consequence. Privacy laws are necessary for the protection of privacy rights.
#4. Privacy rights help maintain social boundaries
Everyone has things they don’t want certain people to know. Having the right to establish boundaries is important for healthy relationships and careers. In the past, putting up boundaries simply meant choosing to not talk about specific topics. Today, the amount of personal information kept online makes the process more complicated. Social media can reveal a lot of information we don’t want certain people (or strangers) to know. Media platforms are obligated to offer security features. Having control over who knows what gives us peace of mind.
#5. Privacy rights help build trust
In all relationships, trust is essential. When it comes to the personal data given to a doctor or a bank, people need to feel confident that the information is safe. Respecting privacy rights builds up that confidence. Privacy rights also give a person confidence that if the other party breaks that trust, there will be consequences.
#6. Privacy rights ensure we have control over our data
If it’s your data, you should have control over it. Privacy rights dictate that your data can only be used in ways you agree to and that you can access any information about yourself. If you didn’t have this control, you would feel helpless. It would also make you very vulnerable to more powerful forces in society. Privacy rights put you in the driver’s seat of your own life.
#7. Privacy rights protect freedom of speech and thought
If privacy rights weren’t established, everything you do could be monitored. That means certain thoughts and expressions could be given a negative label. You could be tracked based on your personal opinions about anything. If privacy rights didn’t let you keep your work and home life separate, “thought crimes” or what you say off the clock could get you in trouble. Privacy rights protect your ability to think and say what you want without fear of an all-seeing eye.
#8. Privacy rights let you engage freely in politics
There’s a reason that casting your vote is done confidentially. You are also not required to tell anyone who you voted for. Privacy rights let you follow your own opinion on politics without anyone else seeing. This is important in families with differing worldviews. It also protects you from losing your job because of your political leanings. While you can’t control what people think about you because of your views, you do have the right to not share more than you’re comfortable with.
#9. Privacy rights protect reputations
We’ve all posted something online that we regret or done something foolish. It can come back to haunt us and ruin our reputations. Privacy rights help protect us and can give us the power to get certain information removed. The EU specifically addresses this with the “right to be forgotten” law. This lets people remove private information from internet searches under some circumstances by filing a request. Revenge porn, which is a violation of privacy, is a big example of personal data that can destroy a person’s reputation.
#10. Privacy rights protect your finances
Companies that store personal data should protect that information because of privacy rights. When companies fail to make security a priority, it can have devastating consequences. You can have your identity stolen, credit card numbers revealed, and so on. When you give your financial information to a specific entity, you are trusting them to respect your privacy rights.
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