When the words “government” and “privacy” get put side-by-side, the knee-jerk reaction is usually harmful. Since the days of Orwell, governments have been poking their noses into citizens’ business. History suggests the association is not without merit.
Protectors of Privacy Rights
In the last decade, whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have shown the communication boom of the internet era accompanied by an increase in government monitoring and privacy abuses. For example, by the likes of the NSA, the Department of Homeland Security, and other bureaus. A charitable explanation of these practices is that, like many during the era, these actors didn’t fully grasp the full cost and legal implications of the shiny new toys they could access. The less charitable explanation is that they did grasp, but didn’t care enough to stop.
Nevertheless, the truth remains that government institutions are the most important protectors of the digital privacy rights of individual citizens. Businesses must play by the rules that governments make. Also, digital privacy has become a critical governmental concern in recent years. It directly reflects the concerns of the general populace.
A high-profile case in point was Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony in April 2018. Zuckerberg was called in front of Congress to speak on his company’s questionable data practices, particularly relating to the 2016 presidential election. The hearings made two things clear: first, there was a newfound abundance of concern and regulatory intention from the elected officials questioning Mr. Zuckerberg. Second, there was a striking lack of understanding or technical know-how from the same officials. The majority of these legislators are not digital natives, and even if they were, understanding the fine-grains of digital privacy in this day and age requires time and attention to detail that no legislator could realistically afford to spend.
At Ethyca, we accept that warts and all, governments are the chief protectors of digital privacy. However, in the fast-moving technology sector, they will always be playing catch up. For SMEs, particularly those that aren’t digital-first, this creates a nightmare scenario of repeated, costly infrastructure overhauls. Doing a one-time, future-proof data infrastructure upgrade is an investment that, over more extended periods, can prove very shrewd indeed.