While billions of people on the planet live in poverty, it might seem that the protection of personal privacy is very much a “rich people problem”.
The digital revolution has meant there are few places left where people can be free from the gaze of “Big Brother”.
Whether those spies are our social media and communication platforms – like Facebook, Twitter, Google, or our smartphones – our likes, dislikes, our habits and even our daily movements, are being recorded.
Most of it is being done with our permission, even though few of us realise just how many of our rights we sign away in joining digital platforms or buying electronic products. There is a cynical digital marketing assessment: if anything is free on the web, you are the product.
Those of us who are aware of the monitoring often accept it as the price to pay. We don’t question whether our information can be shared with people other than advertisers. We don’t think of the consequences of what might happen to our freedoms if state security services had access to that information.
The dilemma of new technology, especially when it comes to offering convenience, or even the promise of security, is that there have to be compromises.
Vumatel is planning 15 000 closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras in streets around Johannesburg. They will be used to keep track of criminals, says the company, and will not invade residents’ privacy.
But where is the line drawn? How can we be sure that these cameras might not point in our bedroom windows or at our swimming pools where our young kids play?
And, how do we know whether the information on the cameras – what cars we drive, where we shop – might not be shared with unethical marketers?
These questions still have to be answered satisfactorily.