Privacy is a Communal Interest

Privacy is no longer what you hoped it would be. In an era where digital is ideal and real life is slowly taking after that, rules and discourses included, some crucial rights are treated as lesser, similar to how some people are treated.

Let me give you some context. Recently, Quebec lawmakers passed a bill, focusing on “religious neutrality”, that requires all folks to uncover their faces when giving or receiving public services. As far as I’m aware, this solely targets Muslim women. I might be mistaken, though. There may be other folks that are affected by this.

My main qualm is that this seems to be stationed in fear. It’s not about religious neutrality. Those women are doing nothing to warrant their customs being treated as invalid. My rationale is focused around reading that some opposition to the bill said, “it didn’t go far enough in restricting the presence of conspicuous symbols of all religions in the public sphere.”

Now, before going farther, I must profess something. I don’t consider myself a religious person. But I value privacy and independence above almost everything else. Part of those values is the consideration for people abiding by their beliefs and customs in ways that don’t harm anyone.

This fear of the Other, as we call it in academic conversations (I’m an English major at my university, so I partake in many conversations about social, cultural, and political differences), is something that happened a lot in the past.

“This group shouldn’t be given the same rights, because they’re lesser. Look at them, they look different.”

Ultimately, this mentality stems out of a fear, though.

“Why are these people different from us? Maybe they’re planning to harm one of us.”

And this thinking, I’d argue, is ridiculous. It should have stayed in the past. But let me circle back a little, just to touch on the digital-to-physical point for a moment. Then I’ll return to the lunacy of that Me vs Other mentality.

With cyber surveillance being commonplace, there have been the arguments akin to “if you’re not hiding anything, you shouldn’t worry.” Well, maybe you shouldn’t worry, but why should you welcome other folks to look at every intimate moment of your life? Do you want someone in Seattle, Washington remotely using your smartphone camera to watch you and your significant other getting zesty? I doubt it.

But by the same logic, if you don’t want someone to know about it, you shouldn’t be doing it. I hope you see why I find the argument for less privacy, honestly just in a case of “what if”–a phrase that makes my skin crawl, and I will talk about another time– to be absurd.

Cyber security can be a great thing. I don’t know if us regular-folks will ever fully appreciate the protections that we are afforded by these tech-warriors doing what they do.

But with power and justification, the same skills can negatively harm our rights to privacy. Again, because, what if?

But the problem arises when these what-ifs take hold in our physical world. What if we don’t have what we want in the moment? What if we don’t know what someone else is thinking? We need to be an open book. So, who needs privacy, right?

Well, there is such thing as intrusion. Some aspects of human life (not digital life) involve keeping aspects to yourself. You don’t tell everyone what you truly think of them, all the time. That would get you in big trouble, I suspect. Just as it would me.

Joseph Cannataci, the UN’s main person to consult when privacy is addressed, was quoted a lot in this article about digital privacy. But I feel like what he says coincides with my point. Standard human privacy doesn’t translate to the digital world as we would hope.

By trying to do so, failing, and then moving towards digital rules being standard cultural rules, we are setting ourselves up for a trap. When some folks are treated as lesser, their thoughts and beliefs being less-valid, we all pay for it. It furthers the divisiveness in a community. That’s not what we should seek.

So, don’t worry. Just because you can’t see someone’s face, you don’t need to assume that they’re sticking their tongue out at you, or that it symbolizes their deep-seated plans for assassination in the dark.

Talk to them. Ask them why they act or think differently. You may learn something, make a friend, or even more. Don’t approach with assumptions.

But remember: it all starts with a simple conversation.

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