Pay attention to your privacy

Author, Joel Basoga. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Mr Joel Basoga says: Privacy is important because it safeguards one’s autonomy and dignity. 

There have been more threats to privacy today than ever before. Although information technology has made our lives simpler, it facilitates the collection of personal information which has been used to enrich a few and monitor others. Sometimes this information is collected without consent. 

Several laws at a local, regional and international level recognise the protection of your right to privacy. Uganda, not more than three years ago, enacted a data protection and privacy law. But why does it matter, now, more than ever? 

In 1948, George Orwell finished writing a novel about the “super state” of Oceania. The people of Oceania had no privacy.  All public, isolated and private spaces were filled with cameras and microphones listening and watching every conversation, even what one had for dinner.   Orwell had no title for the book. He decided to simply invert the last two digits of the year in which he wrote the book – he called it 1984.

In so doing, he prophesied about the communications revolution among other advances of the 20th Century that would determine the ways of life in 1984 and (now) arguably today.

That same year (1948), the United Nations declared privacy a universal human right. Since then, numerous regional human rights instruments have been enacted to protect the right to privacy.  Paul Schwartz, a leading international expert on information privacy and law writes that modern computing technologies and the internet have generated the capacity to gather, manipulate, and share massive quantities of data; this capacity, in turn, has spawned a booming trade in personal information. 

According to Privacy International, an organisation that focuses on privacy rights, privacy is a fundamental right, essential to autonomy and the protection of human dignity, serving as the foundation upon which many other human rights are built.

Privacy isn’t only about those who have to hide something.  This argument is  a restricted way of looking at privacy. It is much wider than the concealment of “regrettable” parts of our lives. Information is powerful. It  has been used to influence elections as seen on different continents.  For instance, Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the processing of Facebook users’ data to influence elections in the United States of America.

Prof Solove, of George Washington University Law School, one of the world’s leading experts in privacy law, provides a wider conception of privacy.  Privacy includes surveillance- have you ever wondered about the “cloud” and how all that information about you is really stored?  The google photos backed up on your phone or the photos and videos stored on the “icloud”, your laptop or phone camera- all these are avenues that could easily result into a breach of your privacy.  Or, if those in authority have unlimited access to your call data that shows where you have been?

Privacy also relates to information processing. For instance, when you apply for a job, can they ask you to mandatorily disclose your religious affiliations, race, tribe? It is imperative that one pays close attention to the information required as you fill in any application forms: Whether it is about opening up a bank account or applying for your national identity card. Is it legally justifiable?

Privacy also entails information dissemination and intrusion. Can  a company sell your information without your consent? For instance, do you expect confidentiality from your lawyers or doctors? What if you found your medical history published online? Shouldn’t you have control over such information? What if someone shared information in breach of confidence? What recourse may you have?  The recently passed Data Protection Regulations in Uganda provide a framework to safeguard privacy.

Privacy is important because it safeguards one’s autonomy and dignity. It protects societies from certain harms and is equally a matter of corporate governance for organisations. It promotes order in society. It can protect you from what can be searched and collected about you. While there is an inclination to view privacy as secondary, it is important to the functioning of society, business and the individual.

*This article was co-authoured by Mr Joel Basoga and Mr Paul Epodoi.