Existing Privacy Rights Apply Online Too
The copyright industry has long complained that the Internet is a lawless Wild West. In one aspect, they’re right - but in the complete opposite way than thay intended to convey.
When we send a letter in the mail, its privacy is strictly safeguarded by laws, checks, and balances. Letters can be anonymous - in fact, tipping somebody off anonymously has been a staple diet of our check-and-balance logbook. Obviously, nobody may open the letter in transit without prior and individual suspicion of a crime. And so on.
This communications secret is not limited to physical letters. It is technology-agnostic and technology-neutral. It applies to the telephone network as well, for example - another communications form that is well over a century old. To wit, it is irrelevant if you are using somebody else’s phone - they still aren’t allowed to hear your conversation even if it’s their equipment you’re using.
For some reason, the enforcement of these laws and rights - not the laws themselves, just the enforcement of them - has failed miserably in the latest technology shift to digital communications. The same laws and rights to private correspondence as safeguarded in the
European Convention on Human Rights article 8 still apply in full force, but they are not enforced in the slightest.
It’s as if the laws and rights weren’t there at all, as if the Internet was merely a curiosity that people could step aside and choose to not use. But that’s obviously not the case. Without the net today, you cannot be a citizen at all. We exercise our fundamental rights - the right to assembly, opinion, speech, and the press - through the net. Therefore, the net has itself become just as fundamental a right as the other rights we exercise through it.
Just as it doesn’t matter who owns the phone network when I make a phone call, neither should it matter who owns the computer and the network I use when I communicate in private. And regardless of whether I am allowed to do so in a specific context - on company time, for example - my employer may still not listen in to private conversations or open private letters. Our set of rights already hold that the same thing applies to private conversations held online, so why are those rights ignored?
If politicians want to be taken seriously by the digital citizens, it is time to start applying the rights and laws that we already have to the world they live in.
It’s not hard - not a single letter of the law needs to change. It’s just a matter of respecting communication on the net just like we already respect the physical letter and the phonecall, and recognize that the privacy laws apply equally regardless of your choice of medium. How can that be so hard?