Publicly protected privacy

I have been wanting to write about this issue on and off for almost two months now. Ever since Google withdrew from China for allegedly refusing to give in for demands to give access to the email accounts of members the country’s political opposition. Back then, Google was facing another dispute over privacy with Austria, which insisted that Google cars should not ‘scan’ the roads of the country to make this information available for users of Google Earth, since such practices undermine individuals’ privacy.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and owner of Facebook, said that the age of privacy is over. I don’t know about you, but for me this is a very important statement. The issue of privacy is becoming more controversial for
both individuals and states.

Now with the new disputes over the recently published classified documents on Wikileaks, and the whole Blackberry ban fever, privacy is becoming an item of dispute between governments and corporations. The question we, the consumers, should be asking now is, “Where does that leave us? And who do we trust?”

Do we go American-style and trust that our government is always seeking to protect us when it violates our rights, limits our freedoms and intervenes in our private lives? Or do we try to protect the corporations that believe only in almighty cash?

For me personally this is an extremely difficult question, since governments around the world are always trying to find better ways to sneak into the heads of their citizens. On the other hand, many corporations are ready to do anything
for money; they would not only give in to governments’ demands as Blackberry did recently, but some of them would even go out of their way to sell information about their subscribers to intelligence agencies, as Facebook has been
repeatedly accused of doing.

We can keep empowering giant companies like Google, and trust them to protect our private information from governments’ attempts to hack into it. But who will protect us from Google if it gains more control over this newfound, and truly democratic medium, that is the internet? Who can guarantee the impartiality of Google or Facebook, or Blackberry for that matter? We definitely cannot depend on governments to do that for us, because they have an interest in doing exactly the opposite. At the same time, we cannot depend on corporations to protect us from governments’ attempts to control us. So what do we do?

When we need to protect our freedom of communication through something decentralized like the internet, mobile phones or other mediums of communication, the defense mechanism should also be decentralized. Users should
make it clear to companies that compromising privacy will not be tolerated. A company that gives in to the demands of governments should be abandoned by its customers, so that the next company will refuse to give in to governments’
attempts to monitor its users. This will give the corporations a playing card to refuse the demands of governments.

At the same time, people need to show more resistance to government attempts to violate their privacy or their right to information. For now we have two pending tasks, protecting Wikileaks from the Pentagon, and letting Blackberry and Facebook know that what they are doing is wrong. Then, we might start to create an actual front to use the digital advancement as a tool for freedom, not for suppression.
© Kuwait Times 2010

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