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Human Rights Day: Right to Privacy in the Digital Age

– Dr. M. Iqbal Siddiqui

In the rapidly evolving digital landscape, the right to privacy has emerged as a critical concern. As technology permeates every facet of our lives, the delicate balance between technological advancement and individual privacy becomes increasingly precarious. This article delves into the multidimensional landscape of digital privacy in India, scrutinizing the intricate interplay between technology, social media, human rights activism, and government regulations.

The Youth as Catalysts for Change: Technology, Social Media, and Human Rights Activism
India’s young population, powered by ubiquitous internet access and smartphone penetration, has become a powerful force for change. Social media platforms have empowered young individuals to express their opinions, organise movements, and raise awareness about human rights issues. This digital activism has yielded significant results, from mobilizing support for marginalized communities to holding authorities accountable for their actions.

However, this empowerment comes at a cost. Social media platforms often collect and utilize vast amounts of personal data, raising concerns about privacy infringement. Young activists, particularly those advocating for sensitive causes, face increased vulnerability to surveillance, harassment, and even targeted attacks. Balancing the benefits of social media activism with the protection of individual privacy remains a crucial challenge.

Government’s Role in Data Protection: Navigating Legal Landscape
In India, the government plays a pivotal role in safeguarding citizens’ digital privacy through data protection legislation. The landmark 2017 judgment by the Supreme Court of India recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right, paving the way for a comprehensive data protection regime.

The Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019, which was withdrawn in 2022, aimed to regulate the collection, storage, and use of personal data, supposed to empower individuals with greater control over their information. Analysing the effectiveness of such legislation and its adaptation to the ever-evolving digital landscape is critical to ensuring meaningful data protection for all citizens.

While the Personal Data Protection Bill (PDP Bill) represents a commendable initiative towards safeguarding digital privacy in India, it remains incomplete and riddled with flaws. Several critical aspects of the Bill have drawn criticism, highlighting areas that require substantial revision and improvement, such as sweeping exceptions that have been granted to the state regarding surveillance.

The absence of the right to portability of individual data and getting it deleted significantly restricts individual control over personal data and hinders their agency in the digital environment. The PDP Bill remains ambiguous and lacks clarity, potentially leading to misinterpretations and inconsistent applications. The Bill does not mandate data localisation, allowing for the transfer of personal data outside India.

Beyond Legislation: Administrative Measures for Enhanced Privacy
The protection of digital privacy demands a multi-pronged approach. Beyond robust legal frameworks, administrative measures are equally crucial. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Development of secure digital infrastructure: The government must invest in building a secure digital infrastructure that protects sensitive data from unauthorized access.
  • Stringent privacy policies by technology companies: Technology companies operating in India should be held accountable for implementing transparent and robust privacy policies that comply with data protection regulations.
  • Proactive cybersecurity measures: Regular security assessments and awareness campaigns are essential to combat cybercrime and data breaches.
  • Examining best practices from other countries can provide valuable insights into effective administrative measures for safeguarding digital privacy.

Law Enforcement and the Digital Realm: Balancing Security and Privacy Concerns
In the face of increasing cybercrime and national security threats, striking a balance between proactive law enforcement and the protection of individual privacy is a delicate challenge. Law enforcement agencies in India require adequate training, resources, and technological capabilities to effectively combat cybercrime while ensuring adherence to fundamental rights.

However, concerns arise regarding instances of police overreach and surveillance on social media platforms, leading to violations of privacy and freedom of expression. Examining these instances through a critical lens is crucial to ensuring that law enforcement actions do not infringe upon the fundamental rights of citizens in the digital age.

Media’s Responsibility in Shaping Awareness and Policy
The media plays a critical role in shaping public understanding of digital privacy issues. By conducting investigative journalism, holding authorities accountable, and amplifying the voices of those affected by privacy breaches, media outlets can contribute significantly to raising awareness and shaping public discourse. Additionally, the media has an important responsibility to report on data protection regulations and policy decisions in a clear and accessible manner, enabling citizens to make informed choices about their digital footprint.

Civil Society: Guardians of Digital Rights and Freedoms
Civil society groups play a vital role in advocating for and safeguarding digital rights and freedoms. They act as watchdogs, holding governments and corporations accountable for their actions in the digital sphere. Through advocacy, awareness campaigns, and legal challenges, these organizations work to ensure that digital technologies are used ethically, responsibly, and in a manner that upholds human rights. They educate citizens about their digital rights, empower them to take control of their online data and amplify the voices of marginalized communities who are often disproportionately impacted by digital exclusion and discrimination. By advocating for policies that promote transparency, accountability, and democratic participation in the digital age, civil society groups play a crucial role in shaping a future where technology serves humanity rather than the other way around.

Islamic Perspective Regarding Privacy
The Islamic perspective emphasizes the importance of privacy and trust in human determination and intention. The digital age has degraded the limitations and common understanding of privacy and trust through digital life. It has become a normal procedure for users to submit their personal details for digital services such as social networking, electronic commerce, personal hosting, etc. Meanwhile, users put their trust in organizations to use their data based on agreement, and they expect their privacy rights to be protected securely and actively.

Islam holds the privacy of another person in high respect, and it is considered unethical to pry into another person’s personal life or space. In the digital world, with the advancement of the Internet that gave birth to social networks, ethics, privacy, and security are important concerns. Islam has explicitly regulated the importance of maintaining one’s privacy. The Quran orders the Muslims to abide by certain moral rules regarding each other’s privacy:

  • Do not enter houses other than your own houses until you ascertain welcome (Quran 24:27).
  • Do not spy on one another (Quran 24:58).
  • Avoid much [negative] assumptions. Indeed, some assumptions are sin. And do not spy or backbite each other. (Quran 49:12)

Towards a Future of Harmony
Protecting the right to privacy in the digital age necessitates a collaborative effort from various stakeholders. Critically examining the intersection of technology, social media, activism, government regulations, and media responsibility, we can pave the way for a future where technological progress and individual privacy coexist harmoniously. This future requires continuous dialogue, adaptation, and a commitment to upholding the fundamental rights of all citizens in the digital realm.

[The writer is Asst. Secretary Jamaat-e-Islami Hind. Email: miqbal1959@gmail.com]

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