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Privacy-Online • Privacy - A Human Right | News

Privacy - A Human Right

Posted March 9, 2015
Written by Mark Heyink
In a recent interview Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, not only rivalling Coca Cola as the best known brand in the world but now also the company with the largest market capitalisation ever, reaffirmed Apple’s commitment to privacy. Cook said:
 

“None of us should accept that government or a company or anybody should have access to all of our private information.”

Privacy is a basic human right. We all have a right to privacy. We shouldn’t give it up. We shouldn’t give into the scaremongering or to people who fundamentally don’t understand details.”

The scaremongering that Cook refers to is the issue of security. He recognises that there needs to be a balance but points out that we all have a right to choose how our personal information is to be processed and by whom it is to be processed.

In the same interview the potential for government to violate a person’s privacy in the name of security was not the only target of Cook’s criticism. He also took aim at companies that monetise consumers’ information.
 
We [Apple] don’t make money selling your information to somebody else. I don’t think that you want that. We don’t want to do that. It is not in our value system to do that. Could we make a lot of money doing that? Of course. Life isn’t about money, life is about doing the right thing. This has been a core value of our company for a long time.”

What is interesting about these comments is that it reflects a global hardening of the attitude towards privacy. Prior to the “Snowden Summer” the United States government and business had a more or laissez faire attitude to personal information and did not emphasise the human right aspect of information as Cook has done. Further, the monetization of personal information was not frowned upon. This shift in attitude is illustrated by the quotation attributed to Scott McNeilly, the then CEO of Sun Microsystems some years ago “You have no privacy; Get over it”, which is diametrically opposed to what Tim Cook is now saying.

Even countries like China, not readily seen as a champion of privacy, have recognised the importance of privacy in the information economy and have commenced taking steps to establish protections of personal information to ensure that it aligns itself with international trends and does not find itself excluded because of lack of privacy controls. As Benjamin Disraeli once commented “Economics is the basis of all history”.

The strong emphasis on the importance of privacy is also reflected in a draft study published by Unesco entitled “Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies”. This study was to be discussed at a conference on the 3rd to 4th March 2015 at the Unesco headquarters in Paris. The four keystones upon which the study bases future knowledge societies are access to information, privacy, freedom of expression and ethics.

In dealing with privacy in the report, the authors state:
 
Privacy refers broadly to Internet practices and policies that respect the right of individuals to have a reasonable expectation of having a personal space, and to control access to their personal information. Privacy must be protected in ways that are reconciled with the promotion of openness and transparency and a recognition that privacy and its protection underpins freedom of expression and trust in the Internet, and therefore its greater use of social and economic development.”

*Emphasis added by the author

The study covers significant ground which is beyond the scope of this article. The issue of Big Data and the Internet of Things are considered in some depth and the protection afforded by privacy law and its close connection to the establishment of cybersecurity, are also recognised.
 
“Cybersecurity is not a priority of Unesco’s mandate, but the organisation would nevertheless support cybersecurity capacity building efforts to protect data and privacy. It could also condemn cyber-attacks against privacy and free expression …”

*Emphasis added by the author

South Africa

Against this background of international development and for the moment leaving aside the regrettable lack of urgency in dealing with the protection of personal information, despite it being regarded as a burning issue globally, it appears that little thought, and certainly no clarity, is evident in government policy relating to the balances that need to be achieved in protecting this constitutional right. Three things stand out:
 
• The considerable effort that the government put into promoting and seeking to have passed the “Secrecy Bill”, despite vehement opposition, and questions as to the constitutionality of the proposed legislation is in stark contrast to the lack of effort that has been made to protect the privacy rights of citizens. This clearly evidences an overemphasis on security (the lack of transparency in which serves to protect government) at the expense of the privacy of South African citizens. This is despite the fact that the Protection of Personal Information Act was passed unanimously by all the parties in the House of Assembly.

• Without appropriate law companies will continue to plunder personal information for financial gain. Government seems oblivious to the daily invasion of citizens’ constitutional right of privacy, resultant cybercrime and the increasing propensity to damage not only our citizens but the country as a whole.

• The frameworks relating to cybersecurity and cybercrime published in South Africa barely pay lip service to the right of privacy. The symbiotic nature of protecting personal information and cybersecurity has been largely ignored. This is diametrically opposed to how the rest of the world is viewing cybersecurity and privacy.

Protection of Personal Information Act

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I am still unable to provide you with any concrete information relating to the establishment of the Regulator and the commencement of the balance of the Act. As soon as I am in a position to do so I will immediately advise you on developments in this regard.

Several people have spoken to me about a rumour, which apparently emanates from one or more of the larger law firms in South Africa, that POPI is to commence on the 1st April 2015. While I sincerely wish that this is true, my investigations have failed to provide me with any concrete indication from the Department of Justice that there is any substance to this rumour. On the contrary, on the basis of what I understand, it is highly unlikely that POPI will commence on the 1st April 2015.

©Mark Heyink 2015

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