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The Right to Privacy: Government Spying and the demise of ethical values 05 Sep 2013 01:27 #7928

  • Gerardo E. Martínez-Solanas
  • Avatar de Gerardo E. Martínez-Solanas Autor del tema
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  • No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, not to attacks upon his honour and reputation.– Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.– 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States
[/b] Last month, the Tibetan government's website was hacked in an attempt to spy on human rights activists visiting the site. This incident is the latest in a long line of China-based malware attacks that range from direct surveillance to the email phishing described by Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay in his speech at the 2013 Oslo Freedom Forum.

Human endeavors and politics have evolved over the ages to the point of recognizing fundamental human rights and liberties in a national and international context. Among the most cherished human rights is the one right to privacy quoted above from the Universal Declaration and signed by practically all countries of the world.

For many years democracy lovers and freedom advocates have had the moral support achieved by their own lawful actions to condemn violations to privacy rights, such as the ones practiced in countries like China (as shown in the first paragraph), North Korea, Cuba, and many others. Only dictators, tyrants and rogue governments dare to violate these rights, but even then, they would try to do it under cover or with surreptitious practices that they publicly deny.

That is why it is so shocking to listen to democratic rulers who dare to openly justify spying on their own citizens without any prior and sustainable "probable cause", disregarding the ethical values they are expected to sustain. in contrast with the practices of their worse enemies. With the excuse of the so-called war on terrorism, they are resorting to illegal unlimited government surveillance of all telephone calls or accessing personal data files indiscriminately with collaboration of companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and others. These methods of massive government surveillance give authorities unlimited control over its citizens paving a tortuous path that is threatening to evolve into the overwhelming government power predicted by George Orwell in his famous book "1984".

These extraordinary powers are somewhat acceptable when facing a national or international crisis involving grave danger, a war or a foreign act of outright aggression, but even in those cases they should be limited to a deadline and subjected to congressional or parliamentary monitoring. Even in the most democratic government it is a truism that when it comes to government power-grab, the tendency is never to go back to the status quo, not even after the "crisis" is over. Once lost for whatever reason, freedom and civil liberties are seldom fully regained.

It is thus a travesty for human rights and freedoms to pass a law granting immunity to companies who hand over our personal information to the government without sufficient probable cause to issue a court order as required by the Constitution of the United States as well as those of many other countries.

Citizens of the United States are shocked by the leaks revealing the huge scope of this government control. However, Senator Lindsey Graham declared that he was "glad" the government was collecting Verizon phone records –including his own– because the government needs to know what the enemy is up to. If anything, such statement is quite naïve. Those who take an oath to defend the Constitution from its enemies, both foreign and domestic, should be wary of making any such irresponsible statements sanctioning a Constitutional breach.

In addition, even if the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, was right in his recent allegations about the tremendous benefit of this Big Brother like policy to allow the government to thwart some terrorist activities, the citizens of the United States –or of any other country following this same path– should ask themselves whether the eventual results justify trashing the Constitution or their fundamental human rights and liberties.

When limits to governmental power are breached, anything may happen. Let us just imagine that the government would like to go one step further and do as Big Brother did in fictional "1984", resorting to the installation of surveillance cameras in every room of everyone's house. The government may argue that it is responsible for the protection of children and it wants to make sure that our sons and daughters are perfectly safe from abuse at home. Furthermore, in the case of childless families, the government may declare itself protector of women rights and the cameras would then serve the alleged purpose of avoiding wife beating.

The fact is that no government needs to know more that they already know about what we are doing privately. On the contrary, citizens need to know quite more about what their government is doing. That is called transparency and governments have a mandate to abide by this obligation. Governments exist to be at the service of its citizens (not the other way around). Otherwise, they are no more than abominable dictatorships. We, the citizens of any country, are endowed to our unalienable rights and liberties. No government has a right to abolish them under any circumstances. And these truths should be self-evident to any and all human beings and enforceable in every country of the World.

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