Despite the new media technology having many benefits, it has resulted in an issue of privacy that has affected many lives. Many experts in the field of information technology refer to the term as one that consists of various web-associated communication technologies, for example, wikis, social media, blogs, and virtual worlds. The majority of people’s activities online leave a trace or path of information, including credit card transactions, phone records, and GPS in cars tracking the driver’s position.
In the online space, almost every activity leaves a trace that a service provider collects, for example, browsing websites, instant messaging, or watching videos. After collection, it is stored, and the companies have the potential to share it with third parties without seeking the customer’s consent. It becomes much worse when the data is provided to big technology organizations that utilize it for advertisements. They use it to build an individual’s digital advertising profile, based mainly on their visited sites and completed searches. Some technologies developed to track people’s activities online include Google Tag Manager, Facebook Pixels, and Google Analytics.
Even if one does not use Google for searching or is not registered on Facebook, there is still a great possibility that the big technology firms are tracking them via website monitoring. Most businesses utilize the above tools unaware and give information about their users. Privacy is the capability to regulate who has access to information concerning a person’s private life or activities. Apart from top organizations, governments as well have been found guilty of invading citizens’ privacy. By doing this, they are affecting two of the five essential characteristics of the new media technologies: communication and creativity. The paper focuses on the issue of privacy in the new media technology world, governments invading it and why they should safeguard it as a democratic value.
Privacy is essential since it allows people to choose with whom they can share their private issues. Additionally, it protects data an individual meant to be hidden, for example, finances or health (Krishnamurthy, 2020). It aids in protecting the physical safety of a person in the event the real-time location information remains private. Lastly, it protects citizens and their businesses against more powerful entities.
Relationship Between Privacy and Democracy
In the last ten years, the internet has emerged as an essential as well as a ubiquitous feature of everyday life. Usually, it has both positive and negative effects (McCarron, 2012). Even though it may improve lives in various ways, as the world becomes a society of information, it raises novel issues (Krishnamurthy, 2020). The majority of that data is associated with not only items but individuals. Numerous governments, public, private, and corporate institutions are accessing the information, storing, manipulating, sharing, analyzing and potentially misusing it without seeking permission from the owners.
When individuals communicate, go for shopping activities, or interact either online or offline, they leave trails of information or digital prints, as mentioned earlier. The culprits choose to utilize these as the source of their data about the people (Krishnamurthy, 2020). Whereas it is a generally accepted idea that privacy forms a fundamental principle of human rights in any liberal democracy, improvements in technology in recent times have threatened the right (Michael, 2022). In terms of concept, the ideology of privacy is not straightforward as the perception of one may vary from that of the other person. Some people consider freedom from surveillance privacy, while others view the latter as the ability to control their data.
Democracy offers settings that respect human rights as well as fundamental freedoms. Experts describe the right to privacy as necessary for democratic government. The United States Supreme Court Justice pronounced it the most comprehensive and valued by men (Michael, 2022). Moreover, it is a vital human right (Michael, 2022). The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 claims that no person shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his family, privacy, or house, nor to attacks on his reputation and honour.
Governments’ Invasion of Citizens’ Privacy
It has been established that governments may be completely ignoring laws or use those that lack the clarity to conduct unlawful surveillance of the citizens. Individuals targeted mainly consist of political opponents, business competitors, and activists. In most instances, they are possibly doing that to many people (Gutierrez et al., 2020). Research revealed that in many countries, the existing laws are being weakened by several factors (Gutierrez et al., 2020). For instance, introducing novel laws that expand state surveillance powers, unavailability of legal accuracy and privacy protections in the available legislation, and impunity for persons committing illegal acts.
Additionally, there is an increased supply of new technologies that aid in the illegal surveillance of the people, regular surveillance done by government agencies and a lack of capacity in civil society to hold states responsible. Governments claim that it is sometimes needed to breach the privacy laws to protect their citizens from ensuring they can prevent a significant crime (Gutierrez et al., 2020). For example, an individual may be a suspect in terrorism, and thus, they argue it is logical to monitor their tracks (Gutierrez et al., 2020). Despite this being understandable, the hidden nature of the process and the significant power imbalance between states and the people surveilled show that there is a chance to abuse power.
Governments Safeguarding Right to Privacy as a Democratic Value
Many surveillance legislation is key to preventing governments’ invasion of their citizens’ privacy. They have to define when it is lawful to do a narrowly focused surveillance of serious criminals whereas safeguarding the privacy rights of others (Susanto et al., 2021). The Constitution of the United States has failed to mainly protect people’s right to privacy (Susanto et al., 2021). State and federal laws can restrict some personal privacy rights in the event there is a convincing interest by the government to do that. Since the issue constitutes freedom afforded to persons through the definition of democracy, governments should actively play a role in safeguarding privacy as a democratic value.
Even as the governments do this, individuals need to understand the constitutional amendments, statutes, and laws established to maintain the privacy of private data. For instance, the United States Supreme Court has discovered numerous constitutional changes that imply various rights (Susanto et al., 2021). For example, the first amendment offers the freedom to choose any type of religion or belief and maintain that choice as private. The third amendment safeguards the privacy zone of a home (Gutierrez et al., 2020). The fourth amendment is responsible for protecting the right to privacy against irrational seizures and searches by the government. The fifth amendment offers the right against self-incriminating oneself, justifying the safety of private data. The ninth amendment explains a comprehensive reading of the Bill of Rights to safeguard people’s basic right to privacy in a manner not given in the initial eight amendments.
The fourteenth amendment is against governments making legislations that infringe upon the individual autonomy and safety in the first thirteen amendments. Before this, a state could create laws that breached fundamental freedoms. Governments should prioritize allowing citizens to communicate or interact freely without the fear of unnecessary surveillance. This creates a community that continues to share data which is essential for growth in the new media technology era. Additionally, enabling companies to access the personal data of the people in order to promote their goods based on the customers’ search information is wrong. It places the citizens at the risk of more potential damage as another party might use it to harm others reputation-wise.
For instance, there have been cases of disgruntled employees who chose to destroy the company’s image by leaking some information to the public. Sometimes, the data consists mainly of the different operations and processes at the firms, but other times, it comprises the personal data of innocent citizens. In the internet era, individuals use every piece of information concerning another to degrade them. For example, a social media user accessing another user’s mental health records might utilize them to bully them. Such actions have been witnessed to cause much damage to individuals to the extent that some commit suicide. To avoid all this, governments need to ensure that they safeguard the right of the people to privacy.
Governments should play an active role in protecting privacy as a democratic value. In the new media technology era, almost every activity leaves digital prints, which technology companies use without the user’s consent. For instance, the track left can help discover more information about someone, including searches and sites, visited. After such data is collected, a profile and advertisements are tailored to suit someone’s preferences. Despite this being harmless, it is done without the owner’s permission. Apart from big corporations, governments are guilty of similar actions.
For instance, it is believed that some governments are either completely ignoring laws governing the privacy of the people or the legislation in some countries does not possess clarity concerning surveillance. Such state activities mainly target people, including political and business opponents and activists. In many instances, they are simultaneously invading the privacy of most citizens. The lack of bodies to hold governments responsible for their efforts is one factor that has ensured it continues.
Governments are claiming that sometimes, surveillance is required to ensure that serious criminals are tracked and monitored. For instance, law enforcement institutions have been able to stop terrorists before realizing their plans against security. Despite this being true and aimed toward the safety of the people, it grants the state ability to abuse its power. It is challenging to trust that the agencies assigned to do this will not attempt to extract any other information from the innocent.
Governments must understand the importance of democracy. It offers surroundings that respect the human rights as well as basic freedoms of the people. This means that they will be acting democratic by safeguarding citizens’ right to privacy. Experts and researchers have described the phenomenon as essential to democratic governments. Even the United States Supreme Court Justice declared that it is the most valued amongst humans. Privacy gives individuals the capability to choose with whom they can share their personal information. Moreover, it guarantees the safety of data that whose owner does not want to make public. Lastly, it aids in protecting entrepreneurs and their businesses against more prominent entities. Privacy is paramount and perceived as a human right by the constitution. It is essential that governments play an active role in safeguarding it.
McCarron, G. (2012) Introduction to Communication Studies. Pearson Custom Publication.
Gutierrez, A. M., Hofstetter, J. D., Dishner, E. L., Chiao, E., Rai, D., & McGuire, A. L. (2020). A right to privacy and confidentiality: Ethical medical care for patients in United States immigration detention. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 48(1), 161-168. doi:10.1177/1073110520917004
Krishnamurthy, V. (2020). A tale of two privacy laws: The GDPR and the international right to privacy. American Journal of International Law, 114, 26-30.
Michael, T. (2022). Unravelling the importance of democracy in the formation of legislation. International Journal of Social Science Research and Review, 5(4), 20-24.
Susanto, H., Yie, L. F., Setiana, D., Asih, Y., Yoganingrum, A., Riyanto, S., & Saputra, F. A. (2021). Digital ecosystem security issues for organizations and governments: Digital ethics and privacy. In Web 2.0 and cloud technologies for implementing connected government (pp. 204-228). IGI Global. 10.4018/978-1-7998-4570-6.ch010