23 Mar Digital Media: “Right to Privacy”
Concerns about privacy have grown in recent years as a result of an apparent impending loss of privacy. Every new device that makes the world a more networked place creates new opportunities for loss of privacy. Information technology has dominated recent business examples with privacy ambiguities. Cloud computing and information storage place vast amounts of personal data in a location where, even if data collection and storage are privacy-protected, the data can be processed and linked to be very revealing. Personal information is collected and revealed via social media.
Online health records are a convenience for health care workers and a treasure trove for medical researchers, but their economic value makes them an appealing business resource for either targeting customers for product marketing or denying service to potentially high risk clients. Personal robots (once the stuff of science fiction films) hold the promise of extending health care services to underserved communities like the remote or the elderly, but they also collect vast amounts of personal behavior data. Companies market products designed to collect information from target individuals who may be unaware of it, such as parents, employers, young adults.
One generation of technology creates a method to protect confidential information, while the next generation of technology discovers a method to identify its source. As science and technology advance, the anonymization cycle continues indefinitely. Surveillance of all kinds is becoming easier, less expensive, and more pervasive; personal information is collected in nontransparent ways through remote data gathering. Big data collected robotically can be used to extract private information with monetary value. Because social media spreads information quickly, private information becomes irreversibly public.
Cameras in public places and chips in a wide range of products can track almost any movement. Without permission, and sometimes even without knowledge, information can be easily reused. The lines between public and private life are becoming increasingly blurred; carrying smartphones from place to place makes it difficult to separate one from the other. Often, the collection of information enabled by technology comes before the development of technology to protect that information.
Transparency is key; it should be clear to the person whose information is being collected which information is collected and what will be done with that information.
Data can be useful or anonymous, but not both at the same time. Even when data is “anonymized,” some outside data can be combined with it to reveal its source, thereby “deanonymizing” it. In fact, the term “anonymized” is misleading; such data is merely confidential and can be discovered. The only way to truly protect data is to never reveal it in the first place. In this case, opting in to data sharing is preferable to opting out. Personal data storage is preferred over cloud storage, which is inherently insecure.
We cannot completely avoid the intrusion of big data and big government into our lives, given the rapid increase in the number of cameras, satellites, smart phones, and the internet. Certain actions, such as only using cash and not using UPI on your mobile phone, will reduce the amount of data collected about you, but such options are becoming less and less effective. If you want to get away from it, you’ll have to go off the grid and become a hermit, or do what Tom Cruise did and get yourself some new eyes.
The problem with going off the grid is that it is motivated by fear rather than faith. This is a biblical non-starter because God repeatedly commands us not to be afraid.
Some Christians respond by saying, “I have nothing to hide, so who cares?” “Do you want to have no fear of authority?” says Romans 13:3. Do the right thing, and you will be rewarded.”
This passage illustrates after all, if the first response is motivated by fear, this is the Bible’s prescription for overcoming that fear. That doesn’t tell us anything about the so-called “right to privacy.”
So, where does this right to privacy originate? It began in the garden when God created clothing for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Noah confirmed it when he cursed his son Ham for looking at his nakedness and discussing it with his brothers (Genesis 9). In other words, we not only have a right to privacy, but also an obligation to protect it.
Admittedly, privacy is a difficult topic to define. Modesty requires you to conceal your good deeds rather than proclaiming them on the corner (Matthew 6). Modesty also requires you to cover your body rather than flaunt it (The Bible).
The question of whether the concept of private domain should be extended from one’s home to one’s electronic data storage devices is currently being debated. But who is entitled to enter these electronic domains and see what private information is there?
You no longer have control over something once it is made public. This is especially true of internet information.
In the Bible, privacy is interpreted as a deeply held value, a right that is difficult to ensure.
Bible does not take any invasion of privacy, whether intentional or unintentional, lightly. The Bible instructs us to avoid invading another’s privacy, understanding that everyone expects his or her privacy to be respected.
Thus, the Bible takes a two-pronged approach to privacy: it is understood to be fragile and easily violated, but it is also recognised as a valuable right. (Proverbs 25:9-10)
For example, Mordecai, while simply sitting “at the king’s gate,” becomes aware of a plot against King Xerxes by Bigthan and Teresh (Esther 2:21). He uses this information which he happened upon by chance to blow the whistle on the conspirators. Their plot’s privacy was fragile, and an inadvertent invasion of their privacy led to their executions (Esther 2:23). These biblical stories all involve situations in which information thought to be private was inadvertently made public, with disastrous consequences.
The moral lesson that runs through these biblical scenes is that the individual deserves to be protected from public intrusion into the personal domain. In contrast to this expectation, every individual and organization has an obligation to respect the privacy of others.
Even before laws are enacted to protect individuals’ privacy, everyone from a passerby on a public street to a corporate executive to a government official should respect their right to privacy. One failure to uphold the ethical obligation to protect another’s privacy rights, no matter how minor, could have irreversible consequences and invade the affected individual’s personal domain.
Nonetheless, privacy is not absolute in the biblical mind; it is understood that God is omniscient. Attempts to hide from God are futile, as recorded in the Bible. Because all of us stand before an omniscient God, the Bible does not recognise a state of absolute privacy. The demand for community life is a balance between the openness of the family and the impersonality of society. In such an environment, one is aware that proper behavior in public is required, as the public is the domain of communal eyes. In private, however, the biblical approach recognises only God’s ever-vigilant eyes.
Othniel is from Mumbai, working at Colgate as a Data Engineer, he has been involved in EU since college and was part of ICEU committee. He enjoys cycling, outdoor adventures, music, designing, and coding and through it, he is passionate to explore creative ways of evangelism.