By Henry Bagdasarian September 2013
Government inconsistency as it relates to privacy is the greatest risk to its own credibility, national security, and regulations. Continued inconsistency leads to hypocrisy which is saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite on purpose and in the context of privacy it means that the government on one hand creates laws to force businesses protect citizens’ private information and on the other hand, it demands companies like the phone carriers to release their customers’ private information in violation of the company privacy policies which have been established in accordance with government rules and regulations.
Although this is a pretty bad start in our efforts to protect individual information and one would hope that this is the end of government inconsistency, it gets worse when a government entity records all voice and email communications and shares the information it obtained illegally with foreign countries as Edward Snowden revealed. As privacy professionals, regulators and good citizens, we are always taught to lead by example but when the leader ignores its own advice in a continued pattern, it is safe to say that soon there will be no privacy ethics left if this trend does not reverse. One consequence of lost credibility is mistrust and breakdown of global digital communication and collaboration. For example, Brazil just announced that it plans to disconnect itself from the US-centric Internet for fear that the US government is abusing the Internet communications. We have now entered the land of “no one trusts no one” and I wonder if this is good for anyone.
To be cautious, we have to assume that our personal information will continue to be abused and the only way that we ever find out about these cases is when companies voluntarily reveal for whatever reasons and whistleblowers like Snowden risk their life to warn us. As we collectively continue to discuss privacy and be aware of the risks, we have to be mindful of the amount of information we share over the phone and emails, knowing that all our commutations are recorded and shared with who knows who until our government abides by its own rules and regulations. Government inconsistency and hypocrisy is the greatest risk which undercuts privacy of citizens because it is the powerful entity that we all look up to for protection and this need for protection is exactly what is being used to penetrate our private lives.
One of the Snowden revelations was that the raw data which was shared with foreign entities also included our politicians’ communications which means that the government also places itself and our national security at risk. Although it was agreed as part of the deal that US citizen data can be kept for one year and the government communications must be discarded immediately by foreign entities possessing our information, there is no monitoring and enforcement of any kind to make sure this is happening. As Snowden stated in one of his interviews, the greatest fear is that nothing will change even after multiple warnings and revelations by whistleblowers who take such life altering and threatening risks which are unimaginable for most of us.