"Arguing that you don't care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don't care about free speech because you have nothing to say."- Edward Snowden.
The 21st century is an era of massive technological advancement. And with internet connectivity around the world, global communication and online activity have brought about convenience to a whole new unprecedented level. Our everyday life surrounds browsing through the internet and communicating with our close ones.
Can this aspect be exploited?
This luxury of convenience comes with the baggage of vulnerability. The only shield protecting us is the data protection and privacy laws. Once an authoritarian state gets ahold of the metadata of its citizens, free speech, and free expression will be curbed with colossal effect. The resemblance might be that of an invisible, more effective "youth league" of 1984.
Has it been done before?
One of the enormous moments in American history was the CIA and NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden's revelation of the series of mass surveillance programs carried out by the NSA, under the Bush administration.
Since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on WTC and The Pentagon, VP Dick Cheney drafted the President's Surveillance Program(PSP) under the codename StellarWind to be carried by the NSA. This draft was signed and given the go-ahead by Mr.Bush but concealed from FISA court.
This program included the acquirement of bulk metadata of millions of American telecom users frequently through companies like AT&T and Verizon. These data were then stored and executed on Mainway precomputed Contact Chaining Service, to map social networks through contact-to-contact hops.
Although, with Mr.Bush claiming the program is to claim trace contact links of Al Quida, Barton Gellman argues that mapping a graph of the suspected individuals, through the complex mapping system, the data of all contacts have to be precomputed.
With history as evidence, whether or not this program had any success in curbing terrorism, this amount of power leaves a substantial amount of people vulnerable to governmental misuse of private information.
The China Angle
The tech firm in China was booming with Alibaba and The Ant Group's rise. This rise boosted the Chinese economy until recently with the temporary disappearance of Jack Ma and the halting of The Ant Group's IPO(Initial public holding) by Chinese regulators and slapping the company with Anti-trust laws.
The celebrity status and the outspoken nature of Jack Ma didn't fare well with the CCP. After his famous 2020 Bund Summit, Jack Ma disappeared owing to his speech critical of the regulators. The whole operation to disrupt Jack Ma's conglomerate cooperation was to establish CCP's significance over a private player.
The CCP's buying into the firm of The Ant Group through regulations will give them access to the data of its billions of consumer transactions.
With the already existing Social credit System, the CCP getting ahold of the sensitive information will further increase its clasp on its citizens.
China's human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong haven't gone unnoticed by the rest of the world. Its tech surveillance prowess can only bring distress to humanity.
Relevance to India
The Indian Govt.'s recent tussle with WhatsApp and Twitter tells two different stories.
Platform or Publisher?
The BJP and Twitter India locked horns when tweets of senior BJP leaders were tagged "manipulated media." The BJP questioned Twitter's role as a Platform or a Publisher.
However, the WhatsApp feud exposes an ironic argument from the Indian govt. Here, the Indian government accuses WhatsApp of breaking privacy laws by supplying user data to Facebook without giving choices. On the other hand, the Indian government demands Whatsapp tract "First originator of Information" when the authority asks.
Whatsapp states that to track information of the first originator, WhatsApp will have to break end-to-end encryption and store bulk data which would endanger the privacy of Indian citizens. Following Whatsapp files a lawsuit against the Indian govt. In Delhi High Court.
With laws like UAPA(Unlawful Activity prevention act) and the earlier, TADA(Terrorist and disruptive activities prevention act) and their frequent misuse, the access of private information to the Indian government is a disaster in the making.
The State's convenience should not trump a citizen's rights. A person's privacy encourages free speech and expression. The idea of a Big Brother state is not far-fetched as we live in the same time as North Korea. During times of fear and uncertainty, governments try to exploit the rights of people. Although, post 9/11 the US govt wanted to expand their efficiency in detecting terroristic activities, it sets up dangerous precedence for someone to exploit those bulk storage of private data of innocent citizens. The NSA is also notorious for the PRISM program based on collecting data of users from companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, and others.
As of 2021, whistleblower Edward Snowden is in Russia under unlimited permanence residency. The team of journalists of The Guardian led by Glenn Greenwald and The Washington Post shared the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for reporting on the NSA. Snowden is charged with the Espionage Act of 1917 by the US Department of Justice. Snowden agrees to face the US justice system only if he is promised a fair trial.
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