No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
We are in an era of mechanisms of ‘panopticism’, as French philosopher Michel Foucault once put it. Edward Snowden gave us the wake-up call. Governments around the world – not only the US government – use their power to employ panoptical structures upon our societies.
In a panopticon no bars or chains are necessary for inmates to feel dominated by the guardians. The National Security Agency (NSA) is clearly acting as a guardian of a panopticon, where inmates cannot know when they are being watched. Mass surveillance breaches the human right to privacy.
Surveillance is a common practice in dictatorships, where the group in power exercises repressive control over society. As fear and surveillance go hand-in-hand, this social control leads to changes in the way people behave: they become afraid to express their political opinions, they start not trusting each other and eventually spy among each other.
This is why the current debate on mass surveillance is so relevant. Governments are legitimizing their abusive data collection by referring to the urgent need to record activities of ‘potential terrorists’. This is the key issue – the guardians of the panopticon are spreading fear amongst societies.
But it is trust that is essential to democratic societies. Trust and respect to privacy go hand-in-hand. They are fundamental to our human dignity enforcing all other rights recognized under international human rights law.
Text: Josephine Landertinger Forero