Privacy. A buzzword in our digital age, where we barely pass a day without sharing some aspect of our tastes, political leanings, or our declarations on social media. If nothing else we advertise what we consume as information by subscribing to sources like YouTube channels, news portals, blogs, and more.
On August 24, 2017, the Supreme Court of India declared that privacy is a fundamental right of each of the nation’s 1.3 billion citizens, protected by the Constitution. This judgement was of significant import, coming a year after the Aadhar Act. On March 11, 2016, the Aadhar Act was passed in the Lok Sabha to introduce unique identity cards bearing the biometric details of citizens. Many argued that this would facilitate the delivery of subsidies, benefits and other services to eligible folk. Soon, however, credit card companies and telecom service providers started asking for Aadhar cards while registering accounts. Objections to such practices were raised on the grounds of privacy. The principal concern was that Aadhar cards could function as a means for government surveillance. For now, such a possibility has been curtailed thanks to the Privacy judgement by India’s apex judicial institution.
Privacy, however, is not merely a judicio-legal concern. Most of us, as citizens, have families, go to work, and live in homes. These boundaries in themselves codify, in many ways, what is thought to be acceptable in public and private. In an age where instant messaging seems to be the predominant medium of casual communication, it is not surprising that intimacy has been further removed from the public sphere. This may be a matter of convenience at one level but is not untouched by the fact that Indian society has been, and is, largely conservative. Think about it — you live in a world where you can reach just about anyone, anywhere, by tapping your fingers on a screen. Potentially, we have never been closer together.
So what makes us so aloof? One possible explanation is the increased mobility of our labour force. It means that people often shift jobs and cities more frequently than they did in the past. This prevents us from forming roots in a place. The upside, of course, is higher cultural transmissions between people and places. But what I want to discuss, however, is how we relate to the concept of privacy at an individual level.
Today, employers are scanning social media accounts to get a sense of the psychological profile of potential employees. Matchmaking services do the same, and even Facebook suggests profiles to users based on shared interests. In our effort to preserve, perhaps, an old-fashioned notion of privacy, are we missing the bus to alterity?
I think the response by many English-speaking people in India to the results of the 2019 general elections is symptomatic of this. There was a sense of shock when the exit polls predicted a BJP victory. Arguments were quickly made as to how exit polls were wrong before. Then when the counting started, the reality of the situation began to sink in. How is it that perhaps the most ‘educated’ section of the populace was so far off the mark when it came to reading the electoral mood of the demography? Was it perhaps because they were insulated by the sentiments of the populace in their echo chambers? All reasonable evidence points to such a hypothesis.
There is an analogy to be drawn here between the present Modi government and their latest invented nemesis replacing the ‘anti-national’ with the so-called ‘Khan Market gang’. As coteries, they both seem to be certain as to whom they represent.
The BJP is the political platform for propagating the ideology of Hindutva.
The Khan Market gang is the mouthpiece of the liberal literati (which for better or worse, in this country, also functions as tabloid journalists.)
The BJP government, in its classic fascist mode, has to invent an enemy continually, be it the Muslim, the Communist, the Christian, the Pakistani, and what have you. Its popularity seems to be premised on a permanent ideological war with these very ‘enemies’ (minorities).
The Khan Market Gang symbolise the very kind of elitism that has driven the global upsurge to vote populist leaders into power. An ‘outsider’ like Trump in Washington; an alleged ‘chaiwallah’ like Modi in Delhi. Any proper dialectical analysis must include the co-dependence between these self-proclaimed adversaries. The inner circle of elites in one corner. In the other, the countryside blood and soil nationalism shorn of any pretence to sophistication.
Both sides derive their legitimacy by discrediting the other. Such is the polarisation that afflicts India (and perhaps the world?).
At face value, it would be easy to mistake the dichotomy presented above in the language of orthodox Marxism, in terms of the opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. One may even generalise the situation by saying that this prevailing populism is reflective of global tendencies at large. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has gone as far as to suggest that the possibility of the emergence of Bernie Sanders appeared because of Trump, who was the violent injunction into the liberal consensus. There may be a degree of poetic and sentimental truth to this. The liberal establishment required shock treatment to redirect itself to the reality of antagonisms. Peripheries had been ordered too precisely, be it the attritional war on the West Bank, Kashmir, or the Middle East. The anti-thesis needed to emerge from within, and the cunning of history found in figures such as Trump and Modi, the vehicle needed to shake up the liberal consensus.
As simplistic as such an analysis, maybe it is the only hypothesis that explains the corollaries noticed between populist right-wing movements the world over. The question now becomes one of consolidation for the right, but for the left—we need to re-think our blueprint for what liberal institutions are to be allowed to become. Privacy, I think is one such front where this antagonism will be played out.
In principle, I don’t favour privacy. But please don’t misunderstand me. I am even less in favour of the State monitoring of our lives. The institution of privacy, however, as upheld by the apex court of India (and many others) is built to re-enforce the idea of private property in its guise of restricting the possible uses to which information can be put to. I make this statement well aware of the kind of regressive propaganda in circulation. Intimate videos are tools for character assassinations. I believe the only way we will overcome such childish malpractices is through content. Everything from love letters, pornographic videos (possibly the most prevalent form of media on the internet) and more must become ubiquitous to the point where they no longer have the power to shock.
It is essential to consider what complete informational access may enable in the public sphere. Research would not have to be curated by individuals claiming to be the sole representatives of an idea, movement, or institution. Advertising companies may have the necessary information to show me products I would desire (we are already moving in this direction). And arguments in court would be able to draw on data that may have been earlier unavailable to the public domain. On the whole, I think such a step would rejuvenate the resources of the commons, which, for centuries, have been appropriated by private entities from enclosure movements to copyright laws.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that certain strategic information, such as the location of missiles and nuclear launch codes, cannot just be made available to the public. But if we are ever going to live in a world that does not need for these, it would be a world where we do not fear the other, where we do not fear ourselves. Knowledge regarding who we are is the surest medicine to cure prejudices borne out of ignorance. It would create a more open and accepting society that is willing to confront each other as they truly are.
Think about it this way — you trust your bank with your financial activity, your government with administrative functioning, your hospital with your health, and your internet provider with your browsing history. If we are willing to trust institutions with our very lives, then why can we not open up to each other? This does not even seem to be a radical step to me.
To avoid becoming a victim of online crime, you don’t need to be a computer expert. Developing a few good online habits dramatically reduces your chances of becoming a victim of cyber-crime, makes you less vulnerable, and lets you use the web safely.
Here are a few tips to stay safe on social media:
The longer it is, the stronger and more secure it will be.
Use a different password for each of your social media accounts.
Set up your security answers. And if you have social media apps on your phone, be sure to password protect your device.
Be selective with friend requests. If you don’t know the person, don’t accept their request. It could be a fake account. Even with known friends, click links with caution. Social media accounts are regularly hacked. Look out for language or content that does not sound like something your friend would post.
Be careful about what you share. Don’t reveal sensitive personal information like your home address, financial information, or phone number. Become familiar with the privacy policies of the social media channels you use and customize your privacy settings to control who sees what.
More Safety Measures
Protect your computer by installing antivirus software to safeguard your data. Also, keep your system updated.
Finally, remember to log off when you’re done.
We can minimize the threat of cyber attacks or cybercrime by being conscious while using social media platforms. It is possible to ensure the security of your personal data of those social media platforms with a very minimal effort. It is also suggested to avoid sharing information about your debit or credit card over these social media networks to prevent credit/debit card fraud, as well.
Be vigilant. And you can avoid half these cyber issues.