'A' Level Essay: "Is there still privacy in today’s world especially given the need for national security?"

“To be left alone is the most precious thing one can ask of the modern world,” quipped English writer Anthony Burgess. While alluding to solitude and being alone, this quote has seen greater relevance in modern times with respect to one’s privacy. Privacy – the ability of an individual to keep information regarding him away from the knowledge of others – is becoming an increasingly debatable issue. Unfortunately, as much as people desire for their personal information to be kept solely to themselves, this is getting increasingly impossible in today’s world as technology has allowed organisations such as governments to tap into personal information against the will of individuals for the purposes of national security. Nonetheless, contrary to popular belief that privacy no longer exists, there are many instances where privacy still remains, such as the cases of political privacy and laws to protect privacy rights of citizens. As such, it is erroneous to claim that there is no more privacy in today’s world.

In today’s world, it appears as if privacy may need to be sacrificed for the sake of national security. After various catastrophic acts of terrorism, such as the notable 9/11 attacks against New York’s World Trade Centre, it is quintessential for governments to fulfil their role of protecting their citizens by preventing such acts from happening again. In an increasingly globalised world characterised by greater movements of people and goods across international borders daily, national security needs to be improved to deter any potential threats to a country’s security and the safety of its citizens. With improvements in surveillance technology to collect and analyse data of large numbers of people, governments can easily and clandestinely collect personal information for profiling. This will enable them to more effectively identify potential threats to national security and intervene more quickly. An example of this is the National Counterterrorism Centre which is a US government organisation responsible for national and international counterterrorism efforts. It has the authority to collect, store and analyse extensive data on US citizens, compiled from governmental and non-governmental sources, in order to detect any suspicious behaviour. Former National Security Agent, William Binney, also admitted that the organisation is able to intercept the phone calls, financial transactions and emails of US citizens. In such cases, even though personal information is being shared with governments against the knowledge or consent of individuals, it appears inevitable that the privacy of citizens has to be compromised for greater security and safety for society.

Despite the need to intrude into people’s privacy for more security, in a world where people are increasingly concerned about their privacy, governments around the world have also realised their onus to set up laws to protect the privacy of their citizens. In this day and age where technology allows personal information to be easily accessed by others, many nations worldwide have agreed that privacy is a right that should be granted to all people and that individuals should be allowed by law to defend this right. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by the United Nations since 1966, has an article that protects privacy, which states that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence”. It also grants everyone the right to be protected by law against any such interference. As such, this treaty acknowledges that there should be regulations set in place to defend the personal information of individuals. To date, 168 states have agreed to the treaty, and have in turn established their own legislations to protect the privacy of their citizens. In Singapore, for instance, the Protection of Private Data Act was enforced in 2013 for this very purpose. It can be seen that privacy still exists in today’s world with the protection of personal information through the help of laws and regulations set up by governments.

Moreover, in an increasingly democratic world, the political privacy of ordinary citizens is especially important in ensuring fair and unbiased voting so that they are protected against intimidation by electoral candidates. As more and more nations begin to adopt the voting system in government elections, political privacy is an increasingly pertinent right for all citizens, as candidates voted into parliament are expected to serve all citizens equally, without any bias towards those in favour of them or discrimination against people who voted against them. This is only possible if the choices of individual voters are kept secret. A case in point would be my society, Singapore, where polling stations for elections are set up with individual booths where voters are given their own space to mark their ballot paper. One is also advised to keep his vote a secret. This is also the case for many countries worldwide. Hence, privacy still exists as citizens are able to keep their political choices secret and unknown by other people.

All in all, despite privacy being a lawful right and having various means to protect it, it is an undeniable reality that people enjoy less privacy today than in the past, with technology that can potentially allow personal information to be disclosed to various organisations clandestinely, even if for grounds such as national security. That said, it is too extreme to assert that privacy no longer exists in today’s world even if it is increasingly harder to achieve.


This first appeared on The Knowledge Loft. It is reproduced with permission.


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