Privacy and Human Rights Violations in the Twenty-First Century

In a world where technology is rapidly transforming aspects of everyday life, human rights and personal privacy is being redefined and needs to be challenged.


| September 2015



Internet Privacy

“Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, interrelated, and inalienable. In this palace with many chambers, one human right is not superior to any other.”

Photo by Fotolia/bluebay2014

The threats to privacy in today’s world are well known: anything from credit card information being stolen from retailers to social media designers changing our privacy settings when it pleases, the invasion of privacy is being redefined by technological advancements. Privacy in the Modern Age (The New Press, 2015), edited by Marc Rotenburg, Julia Horwitz and Jeramie Scott, contains essays by contributors who don’t simply describe these problems or warn about the loss of privacy — they propose solutions. This essay by Deborah Hurley explores privacy as a human right, how technology is invading our privacy, and what can be done to change this privacy invasion.

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Queen Elizabeth I passed a law in 1571 mandating that all male commoners in England must wear a woolen cap. The queen had good reason for this early Renaissance industrial policy. It was enacted to protect the English knitting industry and to provide employment for the people.

This rule may seem quaint today, one of the sweeping, imperious edicts from the era of absolute monarchy. Yet, is it not possible to imagine an upcoming regulation, Off with Their Hats!, barring  the  near-ubiquitous  baseball cap  and  other brimmed hats so that facial recognition technology will not be frustrated in its efforts to capture digital images and measurements of every face?

Another tough leader, Theodore Roosevelt, shouted into the throng at Madison Square Garden a century ago, “Friends, perhaps once in a generation, perhaps not so often, there comes a chance for the people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.”

Go suit up. Privacy is a human right.