Internet Privacy: the International to the Individual

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Human rights, the protection of the individual and the legitimate scope of government are attracting significant debate within the international sphere, particularly recently with the Snowden revelations which have exposed widespread snooping by the British and American secret services. The European Union has been under pressure to regulate its approach to protecting the privacy of the individual within its borders. As a result major reform of the European Directive relating to data protection is underway. The Directive itself will, following adoption by the European Council of Ministers, be replaced by a binding piece of regulation which aims to clarify the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of businesses in this matter.

The stance of the EU on issues such as privacy on the internet is important on a global scale: the EU plays a significant role in establishing norms within the international system, and a clear and comprehensive approach to the rights of the individual will aid the EU in promoting these standards elsewhere. Countries such as China and India have expressed a desire for greater government involvement in censoring the actions of individuals on the internet, arguing for a protection of social values over the rights of the individual.

The balance between the individual and society is one that is heavily influenced by cultural factors within each society, resulting in different approaches to issues of individual rights. The impact of this on the regulation of the internet is interesting: the borderlessness nature of the internet has allowed for greater communication and awareness across the globe, and yet has posed significant problems for businesses operating on the internet. It is often unclear which legislative framework they should abide by, that of the country in which they are based or that of the country in which their site is being accessed.

The confusion over individuals rights on the internet and overlapping spheres of regulation have resulted in calls for an Internet Bill of Rights, but such a document would raise further questions of state sovereignty and would be incredibly hard to reach a consensus on. Important questions about the future of internet regulation still have few answers, and the evolution of this debate at the international level is particularly interesting due to the significant and increasing importance of the internet to the modern global economy. The ongoing reforms of legislation at the level of the EU serve to strengthen its position as an advocate for the protection of the individual within this debate.

Based on the dissertation of “Human Rights in the Internet Age” by Torey Pitman.

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