“You are being watched. The government has a secret system, a machine that spies on you every hour of every day…”
This is the opening line in the popular TV series, Person of Interest. Whereas the series is interesting to watch, one can’t help but notice gross violations of the right to privacy throughout the plot. Phones are forcefully paired with other phones, computers are hacked, emails and text messages are copied without the other persons’ consent, people are followed and photographed without their consent.
One may argue that all that is so that these people are kept safe; but what about that secret system, the machine that spies on you every hour and every day?
I am not sure if I should correctly presume that there is no such technology in Africa, but what do you know?
For any government to spy on its citizens, it’s wrong. And, wrong is wrong, it does not matter how you put it. Notably, a government that does not respect the privacy of its citizens does not respect the citizens themselves. The government cannot purport to safeguard public good if it is not endeavouring to safeguard private rights. In Uganda, a law was passed allowing the government to tap private phone calls. Of course, it was passed by parliamentarians, those sent to parliament by their constituents.
Human beings enjoy certain rights which accrue to us because of our being. These rights are not granted by the state or any government, and it does not matter that they are not provided for under any statute.
The rights to access health care, education, the right to trade, to belong, to associate with others are all important for the enjoyment of our humanity. But the most basic right to the being of humans is the right to privacy.
Imagine there was no doctor-patient confidentiality? Imagine there was not advocate-client confidentiality? Imagine anyone could Google your phone number and get your call records, and your mobile money transfers? Imagine anyone could Google your name and get your location in real time?
Very often, we misuse technology. In our misuse, we expose ourselves to the world, violating our own privacy. But is it a violation when we willingly provide personal information?
We must know that despite the fact that computers (and by computers I mean…) have a memory, they do not have a conscience. We must therefore be conscientious by developing safeguards that prevent our computers from (unknowingly) depriving us of our liberty.
Information acquired about an individual by spying on them is often inaccurate. The consequences of such inaccurate information are vast: denial of credit facilities, refusal of employment, sometimes, a turn down of a marriage offer- a potential spouse may not marry you if it turned out that you have an outstanding loan with a certain bank, or that you have other children. The damage inaccurate information does to an individual may sometimes not be compensated for in damages.
So, where is the best place to get information about an individual? -From the individual him or herself.
Should the individual refuse to divulge the information, then, try the court. Depending on the circumstances of your case, the court may compel the individual to divulge the information.
Our police systems must become ingenious and hope not to rely on information that has been wrongly procured. They should use their investigative skills to pin down a criminal without violating their right to privacy, except when sanctioned by a competent court of law.
It’s a fact, you are being watched, and you are being listened to. By what system, no one knows. Look out for yourself by taking advantage of the privacy settings of the device/software you are using.
BY SAMALI BITALA
This article appears in our digital magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 7, Issue 1 of October 7th, 2016 under the title, You are being watched: Defending the right to Privacy.
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