Catch up with new book launches
Rahul Matthan's engaging book traces changing notions of privacy from the earliest times to its evolution in a modern, complex world today.
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Our personal space is dear to us all. We live our lives in full public view on social media - posting photos of the food we just ate or even expressing intimate feelings for our loved ones. But there are still things that we would rather not share with the world.
Indeed, it is privacy that sets man apart from the animals who must stick together in the wild for their own safety. But mankind was not born private. Our primitive ancestors too lived in large groups, every member of which knew all there was to know about the others. Privacy evolved over time as man developed technologies to wall himself off, even as he remained a part of the society at large. But just as some technologies enhanced privacy, others - such as the printing press or the portable camera - chipped away at it. Every time this happened, man opposed the technology at first but made his peace with it eventually to benefit from the obvious good it could do.
We are at similar crossroads today with data technologies. Aadhaar is one example of the many ways in which we have begun to use data in everything we do. While it has made it far easier to avail ourselves of services from the government and private enterprises than ever before, there are those who rightly worry about people's private data being put to ill use - and, worse, without consent.
But this anxiety is no different from that which we felt during the teething troubles of every previous technology we adopted. What we really need is a new framework that unlocks the full potential of a datadriven future while still safeguarding what we hold most dear - our privacy.
In this pioneering work, technology lawyer and author Rahul Matthan traces the changing notions of privacy from the earliest times to its evolution through landmark cases in the UK, the US and India. Mr Matthan's book is divided into three broad sections, reflecting what he believes are three critical phases in the evolution of privacy as an idea. He calls these phases Privacy 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. He argues that Privacy 1.0 saw the emergence of personal spaces and private thoughts as important ideas; 2.0 was when technologies, such as the printing press, began invading these spaces and thoughts, leading to laws on privacy and consent; while 3.0 has seen digitisation turning consent-based privacy redundant, creating a need for a new approach to privacy.
The book gets interesting when it touches upon digitisation and its associated problems, most powerfully represented by Aadhaar. The author recounts his personal experiences of being drafted by the Central government to help frame a privacy law considering Aadhaar. He takes a very nuanced, balanced view of both the situation and the debates he encounters. He points out how a desire to display transparency pushes government agencies to overreach themselves and compromise individual privacy. At the same time, the author emphasises the need for both privacy laws and institutional frameworks to deal with such situations better.
In the process, Mr Matthan re-imagines the way we should be thinking about privacy today if we are to take full advantage of modern data technologies. The book also cautions us against getting so obsessed with the potential harm from data technologies that we design our laws to prevent us from benefiting from them at all.