Tuesday 3 December 2013

Privacy Revolution Resolution

Internet governance took a positive step, albeit in a non-binding direction on Wednesday. When the United Nations passed The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age, it finally addressed concerns weighing heavily on everyone’s mind in the aftermath of the NSA leaks.

The need to convene and contend with reckless espionage was clearly the result of recent phone taps affecting heads of state coming to light. The German and Brazilian delegations that co-sponsored the resolution probably debated names like, “The Right to Privacy from the Nosy U.S. in the Digital Age," before settling on the current, less accusatory version.

The resolution gave representatives the chance to generate a discussion and ideally move the issue of online privacy to a more prominent position.

Comments ranged from thoughtful to semi-unrelated:

Sweden expressed disappointment that a stipulation to the "enjoyment of all human rights, online and offline, including the freedom of expression and the right to privacy" had not been included.

While North Korea suggested other countries "should...abstain from talking about human rights violations in other countries," essentially saying, “we aren’t the only ones violating human rights on a daily basis, so back off.”

Which leads to the overarching problem of what wasn't the primary motivator or point of this resolution: our privacy rights as individuals.  In the current resolution, the average citizen's right to privacy was too quickly conflated with government rights and national autonomy. Representatives referenced the sinister reality that Edward Snowden’s classified documents revealed. But, it is certainly the erosion of the average citizen’s privacy rights that should concern us.

As the internet grows out of its adolescence and becomes an integral part of all of our lives, the question of how to maintain control grows more unsettling. This resolution sounds nice and may give some much needed venting time to ticked-off member nations, but it is a shadow of a plan for what to do next. It's time for governments to take an aggressive approach to protecting the rights of those who don't deserve unwarranted surveillance. Until then, individuals will need to sort out their own privacy and security solutions.

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