Come on: Does it really matter who has access to our private data?

English: A page from American Civil Liberties ...

English: A page from American Civil Liberties Union v. Ashcroft. This image was made public by the ACLU (from http://www.aclu.org/Files/getFile.cfm?id=15551). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“If you don’t speak up for everybody’s rights you have to prepare for your own rights to be trampled when you least expect it.” David Sirota

“Powerful digital technologies can be abused to carve away at civil liberties.” http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/26/opinion/why-care-about-the-nsa.html?ref=international

In response to that excellent contribution to the discussion by the NYTimes of today (see above link): Even the most liberal systems have an inherent tendency towards a restriction of  civil right positions. Civil rights are, by nature and design, inconvenient, inefficient, administratively annoying – but absolutely necessary for the upkeep of democracy. Because systems in themselves for a variety of reasons, some of them plainly administrative, have a spin towards restriction of individual rights, civil rights have to be constantly and equally system inherently defended against that tendency – this has to be understood as a necessary premise for any kind of democratic system.  Due to the system inherent tendency to restriction, the ability of the executive branch to gain access to the totality of data that makes all branches – including the political dialog –  transparent, is especially worrisome from a cicil rights point of view because it enables to influence the democratic process and dialog that defends cicil rights even before it starts. access to a totality of information carries the foreboding of totalitarian systems.

We have known this for at least thirty years, and it is part of the understanding of the constitution of the United States as well as of the constitution of Germany that the idea has been firmly established that an individual has the right to keep control over what you would now call data, but what then was simply called privacy and freedom of speech.

What is new is that this problem is not limited to one country. Single branch control exerted by privileged access to individual and governmental data alike, made possible by the use of powerful digital technology, if not contested by citizens world wide, will lead to an immense loss of civil rights and constitutional guarantees – world wide. Uncontrolled access to data will prepare the way for an ascent of totalitarian systems, possibly cooperating, totalitarian systems world wide. it is not the world we want to live in.

we need to start developing democratic, predictable and controllable systems and corresponding requirements for legal access to the use of data, country by country, world wide – right now. most of all we need to raise the wide spread awareness that to defend our constitutional values and civil rights we need to demand of our political systems to treat our data with the same respect that they are obliged to obey at least by the letter in treating the individual. we need to know that it matters who accesses our private data, who reads our emails – even if we are just writing down a few lines to grandma or jotting down a recipe.

I am looking forward to reading your comments!

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