The Death of Privacy
Privacy and confidentiality have always been one of the main human rights and aspirations but with the fear of the terrorism and with the digital revolution in 21st century it has become as brittle and vulnerable as we have never experienced before. Technical gadgets have become an integral part of our everyday lives, but this did not come without repercussions on our privacy.
National security agencies and engineering giants are shaking off the responsibility and trying to comfort their users stating that the single goal of the surveillance programs is to ensure protection and Eudaimonia of the citizens, however, should our privacy be sacrificed for the greater good?
Your Safety Is in The Hands of Data
Surveillance programs that monitor telephone calls, emails and social media conversations help to identify terrorists and criminals and prevent possible outbreaks. By analysing activities, “Liked” Facebook pages, browsing history and searches, national security agencies are able to identify suspects and eliminate the risks. In 2017, UK Police made 412 terrorism-related arrests and saved countless number of lives. These programs rely on Consequentialism ethical theory where breach of privacy is justified by reducing the harm caused to society and national security. The life of a person is valued more than a loss of one’s privacy and is therefore considered a legitimate measure that achieves the highest intrinsic value.
Easy to Go with Big Data
Collection of private information by corporations makes our everyday activities easier. I.T. giants gather massive amount of users’ feedback which is used to adjust their product strategy and customer service accordingly. Many of us have been asked to complete a survey or to leave a review on purchased products. This personal input that is shared publicly helps customers to evaluate and decide on the purchase based on others’ experience. It was reported that 54% of online buyers read reviews before purchasing a product. Using our browsing history Amazon and Google are generating personal advertisements which best suit our needs. For companies – it improves marketability of products, for users – it suggests items that they might be needing. The benefits are maximized for both sides which complies with the Utilitarianism theory.
Additionally, collection of private user data benefits to the development of technology. Personal driving behaviours extracted from car computers assist in design of driverless technology and our recorded voice conversations are used to optimize smart home control systems. Apps like Waze combine recorded GPS data and alert commuters about traffic jams and significantly relieve traffic congestions and improve traffic management on the roads. Lastly, Google feature Popular Times is using your smartphone location and enables to monitor real-time customer flows in shops, gyms and museums. It helps users to decide whether it is a good time to go to certain venues, and for the businesses – how to adjust working hours and improve customers’ satisfaction.
Convenience is every citizen’s self-interest, and hence, it follows Ethical Egoism theory which states that actions whose consequences will benefit the doer can be considered ethical in this sense.
Gentlemen DO(NOT) Read Each Other’s Mail
Government snooping is not a 21st century invention as it has been present since the beginning of written history. Julius Caesar possessed a network of spies in order to keep himself aware of possible plots against him. Since 1945, the NSA had been spying on telegrams entering and leaving the U.S., including the correspondence of American citizens. The US intelligence agencies also monitored the communications of civil rights leaders and opponents of various wars, including targets such as Martin Luther King, Mohammed Ali and active U.S. Senators. The Guardian revealed that the U.S. was spying its allies: listening to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s calls, tapping into various EU offices and spying on various Latin American leaders.
Having an informational edge over enemy countries is a necessity in order of maintaining country’s security. However, at a time when international co-operation depends on mutual trust, respect and transparency, such behaviour by allied countries is considered unethical and is deemed to be an egoistic approach.
History also suggests that government surveillance has been used for ages to maintain power and control opposition with a fear of uprising. This approach contradicts the Utilitarianism theory as it brings benefit only to a small number of people and it also restricts freedom of speech and choice of the majority.
Gunpointed. “Trust Us, We Are Not Going to Pull a Trigger”.
The breach of personal privacy can bring significant psychological impact on people and, moreover, a sense of being controlled. Since many of these programs are classified, citizens are not enlightened if their rights are being trampled by their government. It was reported that data intercepted by NSA containing intimate personal media of residents was shared between agents for the sake of enjoyment, disrespecting the privacy of users. Looking from citizen’s ethical viewpoint, it could be seen as Act Utilitarianism where individual’s rights, feels and laws are forsaken. However, the justification “It is for a greater good” can only hide Egoism of public and private bodies to act in self-interest.
Big Brother is Coming Soon
From 2020 China will introduce a mandatory Social Credit Scheme. The personal behaviour of every single citizen is going to be rated by collecting private data without any consent. Every action you take will be evaluated and rated. Purchases of alcohol, time spent on video games will have negative effect on your score. Also, interpersonal relationships and private communications are going to be evaluated by algorithms to determine if you are a good citizen or not. This sounds familiar to George Orwell’s “1984” novel where citizens are victims of government surveillance.
This violates the ethical principle of Respect for Autonomy which states that people should have control over the decisions that apply to their lives. Ethical theories based on Rights state that the rights are protected at all times. Such Big Data collection violates the rights to privacy that are guaranteed under international human rights law and actions must be taken to control it.
Options for Actions
Utilitarianism theory suggests that people should not get rid of their smart-devices as they have made our lives more convenient and safer. However, engineers have a responsibility of designing technology by taking into account ethical issues of implementing it. On the other hand, Epistemic authority which is unavoidable in corporations suggests, that employees often act based on orders of their superiors not thinking about consequences of their actions. This indicates that actions have to be implemented by legal authorities by introducing regulations which would control data collection and make companies to be open about what information is being recorded and why.