Stricter Laws Needed for Online Privacy


With revelations about the National Security Agency’s activities bringing the formerly little-discussed agency into front-page news, the debate about online privacy has intensified. As a result, Human Rights Watch and other organizations have called on global governments to make the creation of stronger policies and laws protecting online privacy a top priority. According to the group, one of the primary reasons for government intrusion into the activities of online users is laws that have failed to keep pace with technology.

In a press release, Human Rights Watch called the current privacy laws “outdated” with respect to rapidly changing technology, and failing to update legal frameworks to safeguard users would “risk severely limiting the potential of the Internet.”

While consumers have thought nothing of putting increasing amounts of their lives online, using the internet for banking, investing, personal communications and more, the mass monitoring techniques apparently in use by the United States and United Kingdom governments are particularly troubling. Simply taking advantage of technology that has come part of daily life, such as a mobile phone or wireless internet connection, should not be treated as consenting to unchecked monitoring and data interception.

And while national security is a legitimate concern for narrowly tailored and targeted monitoring, Human Rights Watch notes that “[b]oth the UK and US governments appear to be intruding into the private digital lives of people around the world, the vast majority of whom are not suspected of any wrongdoing.” Constraining the ability of governments to obtain such information or enhancing the ability of telecommunications companies to decline information-seeking requests from the government can help address the invasions of privacy apparently running rampant.

Overhauling privacy policies of phone and internet companies as well as crafting new laws to restrain government agencies is a formidable task that will take considerable effort and debate. In order to provide a starting point for governments, a group of civil rights, technology and privacy experts established the “International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance,” a guide intended to help stakeholders understand whether proposed surveillance regulations adequately respect the fundamental human right of privacy.


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