The Fading Norm

It would seem natural and obvious to a user of social media that technology is changing the norm of privacy. Here the change is not limited to technology itself but the sociological response to it, as I sense we become more agreeable to share personally identifiable information. This change may be natural and obvious, however it raises several issues for law and policy with nuanced interests requiring balancing. In the background of this debate, I recently attended a conference titled, “Privacy Law, Technology Policy and the Internet” on 25th-26th February, 2010 at Hyderabad, India. The conference was organized under the aegis of the Set-Dev Project generously funded by the European Union.

An interesting and diverse range of papers were presented reflecting the plurality of the participants backgrounds, which included, computer scientists, sociologists, litigation lawyers, law professors and students. To set the conference in context, Prof. Joseph Cannataci, presented his paper stating the need for an interdisciplinary approach to examine the changes and challenges which are being posed by technology in India today. Mr. Salman Warris who heads the practice at FoxMandal Little presented a paper on the ‘safe harbor provisions provided to intermediaries by virtue of the IT (Amendment) Act, 2009’. Another paper which I found interesting was the one presented by Yasho Vardhan Redy and Prof. Navjyoti Singh, on the recent government decision of issuing a Unique Identification Number to every citizen. The paper highlighted how the coding of the software itself could ensure a reasonable level of privacy is maintained while issuing such a number and the personally identifiable information linked to it.

My paper was concerned with the growth of online intermediaries and the absence of a privacy framework to govern them. I basically contended that the law of privacy in India has been developed through constitutional adjudication and hence is limited and suited to be applied against state instrumentalities rather than private intermediaries. In the absence of any such regulation, internet users in India are wholly dependent on the contracts which are drafted by the online service providers, unlimited by any legal limitation to safeguard the privacy of the user. The thin protection, if any, accorded to the privacy of users is highlighted by the recent statement of the CEO of Facebook who states, that, privacy is a “fading norm”. Interested readers can find an abstract of my paper on the following link.

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