Computers, Privacy & the Constitution
-- FernandoGodard - 19 Mar 2012

Is there a real protection for our personal data?

More and more we see countries all over the world adopting new laws and amending their constitutions in order to have a regulatory framework to “protect” their citizens’ privacy and personal data. More than 66 countries ( have now-a-days emplaced certain regulation that somehow follow the European Directive 95/46/EC, meeting or exceeding the minimum standards of international data protection and privacy agreements. Mexico enacted its Federal Data Protection Law on July 5, 2010, following a constitutional mandate that resulted from an amendment to article 16 of the Mexican constitution, which grants all citizens a constitutional guaranty, a right for the protection of their privacy and persona data.

Just as with the rest of our guaranties embedded in the Mexican constitution, such as freedom of speech, education, health, freedom of religion, among others; the protection of our personal data and privacy is now our constitutional right. The real questions before us are: Can the State really do it? Should they do it? And more importantly: Do we want them to do it? History has shown us that important decisions are really “political decisions” and hence, “political legal frameworks” always tend to benefit one or several elite groups.

Who are the key players that benefit from legally protecting personal data? Who should we protect and from whom? Will privacy laws really protect and benefit the people or the interests of a minority of corporations? Even though we think we share data with friends and family online alone, the problem we encounter is that people are unaware with whom they are really sharing their information and what it is being done with it. People are not sensitive about how relevant and valuable their personal data can be and how such data is an asset that generates extraordinary flows of revenues for corporations. It is also a source of immense power; personal data provides knowledge, predictability, control and allows those who access it, to be able to manipulate individuals and even masses.

Asking too many rhetorical questions in the introduction to an essay tends to confuse the reader, who can't tell which of these questions you intend to answer.

Privacy and Freewill.

The technology to monitor, target and affect people directly and in real-time was not omnipresent in the past, so it was more difficult to influence people´s decisions. The most sophisticated advertisements were television ads that targeted millions of “potential” customers. Therefore most of our decisions were made according to our own life experiences and based on recommendations of those around us. Today, the Internet has radically changed this. We are constantly monitored and targeted with products that adapt to our virtual selves. Most people nowadays still think that their decisions and lives are the result of their own choices, their freewill. However, today the average person spends 32 hours a month ( surfing the web, and is being “legally” monitored by whomever so pleases, and companies are free to analyze his or her virtual behavior. Products, experiences and opportunities are intentionally placed before us, slowly affecting and shaping the natural course of human development, manipulating freewill to benefit private interests. By not being able to maintain our privacy, another fundamental right has been compromised, our freewill. The vast majority of our generation is simply not aware of it.

Just imagine the effects that lack of privacy and hence the manipulation of our freewill, will cause a person born today, who will surely have early access to Internet, maybe as early as at the age of 4. According to reports from non-profit organizations such as Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Sesame Workshop, 80% of children between 0 and 5 years old in the United States have weekly access to the internet ( These toddlers are subject to data mining, are being recorded at all times and are being bombarded with private interests. Isn´t it possible that such a person will eventually become who he was indirectly told to be by corporations? When did that person have real choices? Shouldn´t the government comply with the constitutional mandate to really protect our privacy rights? When did the Mexican and the world´s governments, decide to allow companies to monitor and manipulate human behavior? Did they do so consciously or were they also manipulated by the corporations in power?

The question asked is valuable, but it is being asked too bluntly. Our understanding of ourselves always underestimates the effect of others' influence on our behavior. As social animals, we are always part of something larger than ourselves; as conscious animals, we underestimate the outer because of the complexity, the joy and the pain of our inner lives, and we overestimate the smaller part of those lives, the conscious part, in relation to our unconscious motivations.

But our species is now building an external nervous system for itself, which will embrace within the next fifty years every human being, turning us into a new form of social species, "global villagers" in the most complex sense: subject not only to the immediate surveillance and influence of the people we live with, but also subject to the machines that present stimuli, record behavior, condition us and those who want to deal with us, perfecting systems of influence that individuals will only control if the technology is designed to permit them to do so.

Explaining this situation is difficult, but the approach you are taking here is too conclusory, doesn't show enough of the steps, and is unlikely to be grasped correctly by someone who is new to the conversation.

The power of manipulation.

Could this new human manipulation be a replica of what religion has done for so many years? When people go to church and decide to follow a religion, they assemble into a social community, a network with which they share their lives. People are “told” how to behave, what to do, how to decide between right and wrong. For example, people have historically shared their information with Catholic Priests because they are a “channel to God´s ears”. Did anyone notice what a perfect way of gaining control over a community this tool is? Are the priests really not listening? I wish we could ask the thousands of people who died in the multiple Christian persecutions what they think now about “voluntarily” renouncing to their privacy.

Auricular confession is a special institution, not about "religion," but about the particular form of social control embodied in some pre-Protestant forms of Christianity. It's an important comparison to draw, for some readers, but you need to put it precisely, or the analytic importance of the similitude is lost.

Could Facebook be compared to a religion? Do we think Facebook is not really listening and just functioning as the channel of our communication? If Facebook was compared to any religion, Facebook with 845 million users ( ) would be the 5th largest religion in the world in just 8 years ( after its creation (

The reason why religions have been so important and so powerful is not because they believe in Buda, Jesus or Jehovah, it is because of the information they have and their ability to control and manipulate the masses´ will, trespassing frontiers. They know what people do, how and when they do it, they know people´s personal data, behavior and “sins”. Are we aware of the extent of the monster we are creating? Are we conscious that we are legally protecting corporations over people? Are we aware of the power we are deliberately handing over to corporations? What about the risk of big data in the hands of organized crime, terrorists or a new anti-Semitism government? I don’t think we are even close to comprehending the extent of these risks and in whose hands we are entrusting our future.

Again, too many rhetorical questions. We have drifted far from the starting point, and those questions will go unanswered though they were advertised in the introduction, as will these.

Intrusive mechanisms.

Data mining and some other privacy intrusive tools used shouldn’t be regulated by privacy laws, they should be prohibited just as taping communications is, just as violating any other individual human right is.

But it's private intellectual conduct, based on getting information voluntarily, thinking it over, and expressing something back. Prohibiting it means prohibiting the freedom of thought.

There are no “opt-out” legal mechanisms emplaced for companies to be able to violate any other people’s individual guarantees, why should we allow “opt-out” mechanisms for privacy and personal data. If the government is really concerned about privacy, they should stop regulating only based on the capitalists’ interests, and really protect our privacy rights by prohibiting invasive activities now seen as normal and inoffensive and that require a simple “opt out consent”.

It is intrusive and pervasive simply because the majority of the human race is not aware of the down side of this and they are “willingly” surrendering their privacy and freedom. Feudalism was incorrectly not called slavery and was permitted because people “consented” and signed their contracts with their senior feudal to “work” their lands, continuously working to pay their eternal debts. Let us not be naive, ignorance permits control, and ignoring the consequences of sharing our personal data permits corporations to control that information and ultimately us.

Have we gone back to the eras of oppression masked as a virtual democracy? Are governments, just like they did with feudalism and religion, surrendering to the interests of the minority in power? Are we just so naive and uninformed to trust and surrender?

The primary problem here is incoherence. You start with questions about the social and economic beneficiaries of "data protection" law, you raise issues about free will in a monitored networked society, and you end with sweeping recommendations concerning prohibitions on data-mining which are difficult to enforce, politically impossible to make in view of the socio-economic interests you were going to discuss, and contrary to principles of freedom of thought you are supposedly protecting.

What the draft most needs in order to improve is closer organization to a more compact theme. Any of the issues you take up here would be difficult to deal with fully in a brief essay; all of them will not fit.


Webs Webs

r3 - 11 Jan 2013 - 21:48:50 - IanSullivan
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