As the world gets more and more digitized, the amount of data available on the internet has substantially increased, which brings up a new peculiar problem - How important is protecting personal data? Traditionally, privacy has been an essential cornerstone of human rights, with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 12 recognizing the same.

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Similar rights have been mentioned under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights under Article 17.

Thus, privacy has been fundamentally recognized as an essential part of human rights since the early 20th century. However, with the rise of the digital age, data privacy has become the primary source of information, leading to governments bringing up laws recognizing the same. Some of the prominent legislations include the GDPR and PIPA. [2]

Why is Data Privacy Important?

There is no such thing as digital technology that exists in a vacuum. Technology has the potential to be a potent weapon for human advancement and a significant contributor to the promotion and preservation of human rights. Data-intensive technologies, such as artificial intelligence applications, create a digital world where governments and businesses can follow, analyze, forecast, and even control people’s behavior to new levels.

These technological advancements pose severe threats to human dignity, autonomy, privacy, and human rights if implemented without sufficient protections. The importance of data privacy has been universally recognized, and thus, there are several laws globally dealing with the same. Let’s discuss these laws in more detail:

Data Privacy Evolution

With the emergence of information technology in the 1960s and 1970s, interest in the right to privacy grew. The ability of sophisticated computer systems to spy on people sparked calls for explicit laws controlling the acquisition and processing of personal data. New constitutions in several nations reflect this right. Modern data protection laws may be traced back to the first data protection law globally, which was adopted in the German state of Hesse in 1970.

The degree to which data protection is expressed in various declarations and regulations differs relatively little. Personal information must be collected honestly and legitimately in all cases.

Judicial Interpretation of Privacy as Human Rights

Many famous national and international courts have decided that privacy is an essential component of human rights and that any privacy intrusion is a violation. The following are some noteworthy examples:

  • Puttaswamy vs. Union of India was a historical judgment delivered by the Supreme Court of India, stating that privacy is an integral part of human rights. Therefore, privacy is a part of the fundamental rights established under the Constitution. [3]
  • Catt vs. The United Kingdom- According to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), a UK police “Extremism Database” breached an activist’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention Fundamental Freedoms. [4]
  • R vs. The Chief Constable of South Wales- The English and Welsh Court of Appeal has ruled that the South Wales Police Force’s (SWP) use of automated facial recognition technology (AFR) infringed on Edward Bridges’ right to respect for and non-interference by public authorities in his private and family life, as guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). [5]

Technology and Human Rights

In an era of growing public scrutiny and government involvement, digital businesses must tread carefully to reconcile human rights and corporate objectives. Cambridge Analytica severely damaged Facebook’s privacy reputation. [6]. Yahoo was sued in a US federal court for assisting the government in prosecuting Chinese human rights advocates by providing personal data. [7]. When it comes to censoring user material, social media businesses frequently face censorship and free expression issues.

Human rights violations may be an economic risk for IT businesses, but a solid track record in human rights can also be a competitive advantage. Any claim of a violation of rights is viewed as a betrayal of trust, eroding user faith in the firm. Companies must use caution and diligence when getting into commercial relationships with private and public entities.

The UN Global Compact’s Principle 2 cautions businesses against involvement in human rights violations. When it comes to preserving human rights, companies frequently tread carefully. It is a responsibility that must be carried out with prudence and attention. Given the shifting sociopolitical landscape, a seamless reaction to new scenarios is only feasible with a firm human rights policy.

How Can Organizations Improve Data Privacy?

Over 85% of data breaches are caused due to human errors [8]. That’s why it’s vital to protect data and adhere to the laws. Some of the ways your organization can improve data privacy are:-

  1. Data Encryption- Data encryption provides a robust layer of security and defense for your data at its most basic level. It protects data by sending it over the internet and storing it in a database. Your data is subject to cyberattacks and data hacks if it is not encrypted. One of the most effective methods is to keep client and employee information secret, so your company doesn’t end up on any data breach lists. Data encryption is also crucial when it comes to meeting different regulatory requirements.
  2. Regular Data Auditing- To resist a complex privacy risk environment, manage your privacy risk by maintaining your existing controls as effectively and efficiently as feasible. Focus your testing on recognizing personnel errors and identifying any holes in the process. If you keep your systems up to date with current rules, you’ll be better positioned to make changes fast if something changes. Whatever the differences in privacy may entail, be honest with your consumers about how their data will be used.
  3. Data Backups- With the growing frequency of data breaches and outages, having a good data backup plan is more vital than ever. It’s critical to safeguard data against any potential threats so that a business isn’t caught off guard when something goes wrong. With the right data backup technology in place, you’ll be able to travel back to the last known good point in time before the problem occurred.

Conclusion

Data privacy is an extension of privacy that has been recognized as a fundamental human right through various international legislations. Even if all future data uses could be predicted, human rights are an essential requirement that cannot be surrendered by agreement. With vast amounts of data available, organizations need to be careful and take additional steps to protect data. The potential risks of unprotected data are extensive, thus, requiring effective solutions. In the end, the digital society may necessitate far more robust safeguards than a consent-based paradigm can give.

References

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, https://bit.ly/3xDVZIU.

[2] Data Governance Standards in the Era of PIPA and GDPR, https://bit.ly/37nzzRO.

[3] Puttaswamy vs. Union of India, https://bit.ly/3sgVBwM.

[4] Catt vs. The United Kingdom, https://bit.ly/3KV07HJ.

[5] R v The Chief Constable of South Wales, https://bit.ly/3w4oMnK.

[6] Here’s everything you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica scandal, https://cnb.cx/3P7GiQM.

[7] Yahoo! lawsuit (re China), https://bit.ly/3LTmGgZ.

[8] Understand the mistakes that compromise your company's security, https://bit.ly/3OmTQHG.