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Protection of Privacy, Anonymity and Freedom of Expression

Syuzan Marukhyan, Katitza Rodriguez

Recently Diplo Foundation has initiated a new on-line course on Privacy and Data Protection. The course provided an interesting opportunity to learn from comprehensive reading materials, as well as to participate in acute discussions with peers from around the world. The third week of the Course was mainly devoted to the issues of privacy, anonymity and freedom of speech. After a week of intensive reading we had an opportunity to discuss in on-line chat both the reading materials and our own examples and concerns. Here is a very brief summary.


As discussed both, through the readings of the 3rd week, and in our respective webinar, with the development of new technologies and the increasing expansion of virtual life and virtual relations, the issue of privacy rose and is gradually becoming very acute and important. This issue apparently should also be a big concern for the governments that have to ensure the right to privacy and freedom of expression of their citizens.

Eighty-nine countries around the world had adopted a data protection law as of February 2012. In a study on Global Data Privacy Laws, Graham Greenleaf, Professor Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Australia found out that the adoption of privacy laws has been done slowly in the last 30 years: 8 laws in the 1970s, 13 laws in the 1980s, 21 laws in the 1990s, 35 laws in the 2000s and 12 laws so far in this decade (Greenleaf, 2012). Debates are reflected differently in different regions, based both geopolitical and economic situation.

Some participants argued that while there are several means of protecting data protection (legislation, self regulation, technological protection), it is really difficult to chose a single one among them which would be a sufficient remedy for all the countries at all times. For example, it was mentioned that self regulation, as a means of data protection that leaves to private sector to set rules have been question by some stakeholders if there is no minimum legal standard that sets the foundation over which the guidelines should be build upon it. It was also pointed out by some participants that it can be difficult for a small company to comply with a heavy privacy legislation. However, many participants feels one can not totally depend on a self regulatory model even less in those countries with a roman-civil law tradition. It was also mentioned protection privacy mechanisms also has lead to the need for effective technological tools for privacy protection. Some participants also mentioned the importance of education, and individuals need to learn how to use those tools properly.

Another discussion brought up in the class. It was discussed that privacy right is not possible to separate totally from the right to freedom of expression. There were hots debates about whether anonymity is a bad or good practice. Discussions around how to balance the need to protect the identity of anonymous speaker and the process to redress wrongs. Anonymity is crucial to foster expression and to fight the silence of self censorship. Anonymity protects the rights of minority groups against an intolerant society. However, anonymity can hide the identify of wrongdoers (criminal, pedophiles) and can be abused to make harm to other people. At at the same time, for the majority of the population, it is hard to be anonymous absolutely, because often there are several ways to trace people through their virtual footprints. However, it is important that the decision to disclose the identity so is also well balanced and derives from public interest merely and not political speculations. It was mentioned that judicial courts are the best way to ensure the disclosure of identity of anonymous speaker in several jurisdictions. In this respect, good due process practices have been developed to unmask the identify of a wrongdoer without abusing the right of every individual to remain anonymous if they wish to do so.

“Make reasonable efforts to notify the person whose identity is sought.

If possible, agree to a timetable for disclosure of the information to the party seeking it that provides a reasonable opportunity for the Internet user to file an objection with a court before disclosure.
Forward the exact statements and material provided by the person seeking the identity, including information about the cause of action alleged in the lawsuit and the evidence provided by the identity-seeker to the court where provided to the service provider.
User should be provided with a reasonable amount of time, such as 30 days, to respond before the Online Service Provider produces the requested information. This will give the user an opportunity to object to disclosure of his or her identity.” (EFF, 2011).

To sum up, the class strikes hotly debates around privacy legislation, self regulation and anonymity which different opinions among participants! It was a fun week.

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Comment by Enock Othin on July 16, 2012 at 9:15pm

Thanks Susan for the info and would like to congratulate Diplo Foundation and the tutors for the great work done.

Comment by Susan Marukhyan on July 16, 2012 at 7:55pm

I want to thank Diplo Foundation and particularly mu tutors Stephanie and Katitza for their comprehensive tutorship!



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