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Security vs Privacy in the Internet world- Antagonists or Allies?

Security and privacy are often considered antagonists in the Internet world- but is the relationship that exists between the two more of allies than adversaries or both? If the many uses of the Internet goes beyond a tool for mere ‘communications, research, education to sending money, searching for jobs, booking a holiday, online entertainment and shopping’ (Top10list, 2013), to becoming a weapon of mass surveillance and a socio-political detonator for destruction, surely questions users’ security and privacy online.  Then, will a dissection of the ‘good vs bad’ influence of each from the recent high-profile cases, Snowden revelations and the Apple vs FBI, demonstrate that security and privacy is a wakeup call for a balance between both issues (Oghia, 2016)? What was significant from these cases was not that it exposes issues of cyber surveillance, intrusion of privacy, but lessons learned to achieve both security and privacy, by working together on the promotion and protection of each  (Stavridis & Weinstein, no date). And will it be up to the users to decide for themselves whether their security and privacy are more safer or more intrusive these days.

The phenomenal impact of the Internet on borderless social interactions, and economic development requires promoting an open, safe and secure cyber world. One can say that, security is needed to ensure privacy online, whilst more or less security, privacy is either enjoyed or comprised. But it is not that simple.

At the outset, security which focuses on ‘ensuring stable, functional and reliable use of the Internet’ whilst privacy, a fundamental human rights, focusing on the ‘right of citizens to control their own personal information and decisions about whether to disclose or not’, continues to tops the agendas of the Geneva Internet Platform, the digital economy and society (GIP Digital Watch, 2017).

The debate between security and privacy is surely the biggest dilemma of the Internet age,  and the relationship between the two is a vigorous, vibrant one and can be of symbiosis or parasitic nature, depending on the situation. It is a dilemma because the more companies, organizations, governments and multi-stakeholders work on getting relevant securities in place, the more they need to worry ensuring privacy gets as much attention.

A CNN article highlighting ‘internet privacy does not exist, only internet security’ since US Senate Intelligence Committee authorities, argued that “intelligence services are not the bad guys”, but are looking out for the country’s national security, protecting it from extremisms, cybercrimes and cyber attacks (Zaru, 2014). This is a bit hypocritical of US reaction, since they often associated themselves as the ‘good guys surveillance’ against the Russians counterparts who were indicted by the US Department of Justice for protecting, directing, facilitating and paying criminal hackers to steal millions of Yahoo accounts (NYTimes, 2017). The antagonists nature of privacy vs security, is similar to the US (privacy) –Russian (security) bipolar, however, they feed off each other, competing towards a better, more vigilant, safer world for us to we live in. It is also interesting that privacy is not explicitly spelled out in the democratic US Constitution, which upholds principles of human rights and data protection. Nevertheless, when a terrorist attack occurs on US soil, taking lives, will it be at the Government’s mandate to tap into the terrorist’s phone? The antagonists’ positions take over.

The Internet myth that the ISP tracks every move online, which can be a serious invasion of personal or organizational privacy, at the same time, can be a security mechanism to fight against cyber crimes. Nowadays, we all know that it's no myth that the ISPs tracks user's access, and in that case, the myth may well be that what the ISP does is an invasion of privacy.

The impact is two-fold. Whether the ‘ISP has the power to scan and save every piece of data that flows through its system’, using sensitive information to embarrass or expose user behavioral patterns, or limit the user’s net neutrality, the ISP on the good side, can assist in bringing to justice by tracking and apprehending criminal activities online (Roos, 2009). When Facebook users, agreed to the terms of service, to provide their personal information, their Internet privacy, their data is shared social media. If Facebook, profit from these personal information, then security must be really enforced as well, to achieve balance.

In a world where technology has increased with the explosion of new Internet of Things (IoT) applications, which ‘generate large amounts of data from diverse locations’(Violino, 2013). Complicated issues related to cybercrime, cyberconflict, child safety online, encryption, spams, digital signatures, data privacy, and protection follow suit.

To protect child safety online, privacy and security must cooperate, for instance, ‘age-verification checks mechanisms in the UK to prevent children from accessing pornography online’. If Federal Law repeals laws against privacy, it will mean erasing encryption, target opportunities for hackers, to have cyber attacks on banks, hospitals or steal intellectual property. To ensure Internet privacy will be at the risk of Internet security, however, security with mass surveillance, may in fact save lives, avoid disastrous attacks and compromising user safety and infringement of rights online.

To ensure that responsibility for security and privacy rights from all parties, raising awareness about safeguarding security risks and empowering privacy is critical. The relationship is rewarding, if the right balance of security and privacy is uphold- thus more of an ally than antagonist positions.  Security and privacy are not independent of each other, but thrive on each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Striking the balance  between the two, must involve active commitment and engagement of key actors  (international organizations, governments, civil societies, private sectors, law enforcements) and enforcing proper instruments (legal, conventions, awareness) at all levels. To enjoy a safer internet, without violating human rights, their relationship must be more of allies than antagonists. 

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