GUEST ESSAY: The ethical considerations of personal privacy viewed as a human right

By Dean Chester

It ought to be clear to everyone that personal privacy should be a human right and not a commodity to be bought and sold.

Alas, we can’t take it for granted: data breaches put us under fire constantly, revealing everything about us from logs and passwords to medical data.

The recent Suprema data breach, for example, exposed such sensitive data as fingerprints, facial recognition, and clearance level information of as many as 28 million employees worldwide. This number is so high that it’s difficult to even imagine the consequences of it.

Luckily for us, there are ways to protect our private info, at least to some extent. But there seems to be an underlying problem in these possibilities.

The question of ethics

Yes, what we should ask is how ethical it is to even charge for upholding one’s privacy? It is true that there are cheap VPN services and even free ones. Isn’t it great to be able to hide your traffic by encrypting it for free?

But as it always is the case with free services, those that aren’t paid make you their product by limiting your speed and traffic, showing you ads, and – what a surprise – selling your private data to third parties.

Inexpensive services may not seek to profit off of you, but the question of ethics still stands. Is a right you have to pay for a right or is it a privilege?

It may be argued that it costs money to keep a virtual private network going, and it’s a good argument. This article, however, is not meant to be a jab at honest VPN providers. Obviously, what they do is logical and they can’t be blamed for it. There’s a market for the services they provide and they try to keep the fees low.

It is the situation creating this market that is unhealthy. And as long as it doesn’t change, we can’t take our privacy online as a fundamental right.

Free privacy… or is it?

Another popular solution to the lack of privacy on the Web today is Tor. At first glance, it seems to be a perfect one: it’s free and maintained by the sheer dedication of thousands of volunteers all around the globe. Sure, it may be slow, but that only adds certain grassroots charm to the whole affair.

The second glance brings disillusionment. Tor may be free to use but it’s not free to keep going and the funds have to come from somewhere. And they do – from the American government, as they always have. Not to mention the fact that even simply looking up Tor or Tails, an operating system dedicated to using Tor, online can put you on the NSA list.

So privacy again comes at a cost. This time, the cost is paradoxical because it can lead to the loss of privacy thanks to the increased attention from the governmental agencies to the individual interested in Tor.

What should be changed

Chester

As was said before, it is the situation that is dangerous to our basic rights, not the symptoms. Thus, it is the situation that needs changing.

The change should come as an action, not a reaction. No matter how advanced our privacy protection becomes, if we still need to go out of our way to get it, our rights are infringed. If we still need to check where a VPN provider is registered because of agreements that allow one country’s surveillance agencies to spy on residents of another, our rights are infringed.

If we still need to talk about privacy, our rights regarding it are infringed.

And we do still need to talk about our privacy.

About the essayist: Dean Chester writes articles about cybersecurity, data safety and  unrestricted access to the Internet for CoolTechZone, a website that highlights urgent online threats, persistent problems and the ways to bypass them all.

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