The Good and The Bad of Privacy Protection Laws

With it being 5 years to the day that Privacy Reform Laws PXG103-T10 were passed I thought I would look into the complexities of what privacy is and the trials of the laws concerning it.

Privacy and law are two things that often do not go hand in hand, but what even is privacy? It may sound like a stupid question but it is an important one none the less. How can we hope to accurately write a law without even understanding the subject in question? Privacy and personal privacy especially is surprisingly complex.
In simple terms privacy is nothing more than one’s right to remain anonymous and keep secrets. But is that all? Do we even have the right for those things? Should we have those rights? The issue of privacy is what counts as privacy? And what does the law have the right to dictate as privacy? Most people are aware of the concept of personal privacy in the form of body and physical contact, how ones genitals areas are off limits and how you cannot touch someone without there consent. But even this can get complex, crowded elevators, accidental contact, train journeys, implied consent, and whether consent was given often becomes one person’s words against another, as people rarely sign a written contract before any such engagements.
Digital consent is another kettle of fish entirely, people publish so much personal information online and store so much information on online servers that although meant to be secure have nigh constant data breeches and countless employees who have access to all your personal information and even payment details, what is worse is that the Terms and Conditions of most of these websites and such try to push all liability on you, like those signs you find in a “secure” car park that claims the car park operator is not responsible for any theft or damage of your vehicle, these websites and servers claim they are not responsible for any loss, theft or sharing of your data and it is your own fault for trusting them with your data. And once your personal information is online, you may find yourself in a court battle to get it removed, if you desire it to be permanently gone.
On top of this we have visual privacy and the privacy to not be recorded on cameras, cctv, surveillance, other people’s photos, selfies and the like. There are even those religions that believe cameras and pictures steal pieces of ones soul, and looking upon politicians, celebrities and sportsmen, you can almost believe this as fact because many of those people indeed seem to lack a soul and have seemingly been corrupted by the limelight. There are many of those with anxiety who do not wish to be recorded on camera and the amount of cases where an employee has sold or distributed “secure” surveillance and cctv footage, it is enough to make anyone paranoid especially when we take into account that many offenders may yet to be caught or known.
Ultimately what is privacy? The answer may be, none existent. Well at least until 5 years ago with the Privacy Reform Laws. But before we look at them, let’s talk about the struggles of privacy laws.

Privacy laws have always been hard to write and even harder to enforce. With cctv and surveillance, people have claimed it to be an invasion of privacy but these concerns have always been responded to with; “If you have nothing to hide then you shouldn’t worry about it, and if you do have something to hide then you probably belong in jail and as a result we need to invade your privacy.” But the struggle with that is most surveillance and cctv is not owned or run by the government but independent for profit organisations, and on top of that, all this very private footage is handled by humans. Even the greatest of humans have their faults and perversions so how can we trust them? Perspective is also another issue, what looks like one thing on a camera could have entirely been a different thing in reality, but this footage can be used as evidence to get a criminal off the hook or an innocent person jailed. Government bodies are also the organisations that have the largest and most extensive data breeches. So if we cannot trust our government to respect our privacy or protect our information then how can we expect them to write laws protecting it?
With stricter privacy laws comes a struggle for crime fighting, stricter laws make surveillance harder, discovering criminals nigh impossible, while performing searches and getting warrants becomes a tedious and time consuming job that may not even yield results or even result in a suspect suing their accusers.
Companies and government bodies rely on gathered personal information to better represent the populations that they serve and better serve the people. Without access to this information it can be very difficult to change services and responsibilities in each area, what could have once been scientific reasoning and forecasting now becomes nothing more than guess work.
Schools, social media and anyone with a camera or responsibility for others can find themselves caught up in a complex system of privacy laws that they do not fully understand. Many a school kid’s parent can attest to the sheer volume of documents and papers they have to sign to allow their child to participate in even simple activities. And this is due to privacy protection, you are the one responsible for allowing your child to have a photo taken. The privacy of children is also a more concerning and difficult area due to the fact that children cannot legally give consent and cannot protect themselves as a result it falls on the adults to determine every little part of their life and as privacy laws get stricter that means parents will have to be consenting for their children with ever more nonsensical and small things that you wouldn’t think would need your consent. But with the amount of pedophiles, kidnappers, human traffickers and so on it is becoming ever more important to make sure your children are safe and what may seem like something with threat of danger can prove far more dangerous than you would have expected. Another issue falls on social media and the obsession of selfies, these selfies will often have people caught in the background, much of the time you do not have their consent to share or even take those pictures, and stricter laws can lead to stricter punishments and compensation.
Then there is should famous people, politicians and companies be allowed their own privacy? Considering how large a role they play in everyone’s lives a single secret can massively upset the balance of the world. How many times have scandals occurred where a dirty secret was revealed to the world? And how much pain and suffering could have been avoided if these influential figures, companies and authorities had their secrets revealed much earlier, in fact they would never have been able to do such a thing if everything they did and held was public knowledge.
But we can see what a lack of privacy does to those in the limelight. So many people have been crushed by paparazzi, consent hounding of journalists and reporters, horrible articles, spying, phone hacking and so on. So many of these “scandals” have been nothing more than a lie or exaggeration so a news paper or magazine could sell a lot of copies. Innocent and good people have been destroyed by public attention and even killed themselves due to the lack of privacy. This is especially true to those who are not celebrities but instead normal people who found themselves suddenly launched into the public eye. Companies also handle so much sensitive data of the normal people that they need privacy to give others privacy.
Murderers, thieves, rapists and stalkers have often used public sources for private information to hunt people, from telephone books, to statistics, using modern search engines you could find almost everything about a person simply by having their name and knowing their hometown.

With the 2013 Privacy Reform Laws, much of this has changed. They went as far as possible to protect a person’s privacy, especially the privacy of heroes and others who found themselves in the limelight, but these laws could be applied to everyone. Click here to learn a bit more about these laws. As a result much has changed. Companies now have to accept all responsibility for all personal information they store and the cost for misusing this information or having a data breech became so great that most companies stopped offering intractability on a personal level, some companies as a result shut down. Other companies went the extra mile to make incredibly secure and expensive servers. These servers are not only fully automated but access to them is extremely limited. To pay for these servers once free to use websites started to become subscription based.
Perhaps the one thing no one saw coming was with media sharing and video streaming sites, due to how much memory a single video took up and how many extra levels of security were required to protect videos and pictures from screen recording software, in addition to the inability to wipe most the server data routinely; they offered only the already successful veterans of such sites a space on their secure servers, in addition to those who could pay for it. But still wishing to allow individuals to share and upload media they opened unsecured cheap, open servers. To use these open servers people had to entirely wave their rights for personal information privacy, an act that could not easily be taken back and an act many people quickly came to regret. The issues that arose was that a person should always have the right to dismiss their right to privacy. But without a large edit to the laws there was no way for a person to share their information with a company in such a regard that did not require the company to take full responsibility for protecting this persons information, or for the person to wave their rights for personal information privacy. For a person to wave such rights it is a difficult process requiring the individual in question to sign multiple forms with multiple witnesses and to send them to a solicitors, processing company or directly to your local government body with payment to place themselves on the Known Person’s list, a list of people in the world who’s personal information belongs in the public domain, outside of bank account details and security information.

Ultimately if we lived in a perfect world no one would need privacy and we would not have to worry about our own privacy being invaded if we wanted to keep it. But if we lived in a perfect world we wold not need laws at all.

Privacy is a difficult matter and one we will unlikely, ever, have a good legal answer to.

Sarah Thorneson