In March 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed a “special rapporteur, or expert, on the right to privacy.” The move was just the latest in a trend where online privacy is increasingly being seen not just as a privilege, but also as a universal human right. All the way back in 1953, before the internet was even a glimmer of an idea, the Council of Europe declared that every person had “the right to respect for his private and family life, his home, and his correspondence.” Internet privacy would fall under the “private and family life” and “correspondence” portions of that declaration, which means that the Council of Europe has considered online privacy a human right since the internet first went live.


Recent Threats to Online Privacy

In 2013, when Edward Snowden leaked documents about the National Security Agency’s spying programs, he revealed a gross violation of human rights on the part of the United States government. The leaked documents revealed that the NSA was using its power to bully major internet companies into turning over information about their users. The result was a surveillance program called PRISM that violated the constitutional rights of citizens and the human rights of non-citizens and did so under the guise of “protecting” the American people.

When the UN appointed their “special rapporteur” last year and began making inroads toward the recognition of internet privacy as a human right, they were likely motivated—at least in part—by programs such as PRISM. According to this report on the matter from Human Rights March, the Human Rights Council’s decision was owed in part to the efforts of Brazil President Dilma Rousseff and German Chancellor Angela Merkel—both of whom were reportedly “victims of US espionage.” Such reports led Rousseff to raise the issue of online privacy within the UN and are largely to thank for the Human Rights Council’s recent steps forward on the subject. In other words, it’s clear that other countries feel threatened by the United States government and its overreaching mass surveillance programs.


Why Internet Privacy Needs to Be Considered a Human Right

The question that has been posed time and time again by United States citizens is whether or not the ends justify the means. According to the government, they do. The NSA and most federal officials would say that online surveillance is a necessity to keep America and her people safe. The government also says that the majority of PRISM and other surveillance programs are geared toward spying on individuals or groups in foreign countries, with a focus on tracking radicals or terrorists and preventing potential attacks on United States soil.

The latter argument appeals to the emotions and fears of American people, by hinting that mass surveillance might be the only thing that can prevent the next 9/11. This argument also implies that the government is trying to avoid spying on citizens due to their constitutional rights, but that non-citizens are fair game for surveillance because they are not protected under the constitution.

But what if your business works with foreign partners, clients, or customers? Shouldn’t those people and the communications you share with them be private? In fact, isn’t it sometimes imperative to the continued success and integrity of your business that those communications stay private? Having someone else accessing your emails or data without permission—even in the name of “national security”—is a frightening thought. And if your foreign clients and partners deserve online privacy rights, then it stands to reason that everyone else does, as well. As such, internet privacy shouldn’t be a constitutional right, but a universal human right.


How Document Management Software Can Help You Protect Your Privacy Rights

The good news is that the UN’s decision to hire a special rapporteur is definitely a step in the right direction. This expert will be responsible for reviewing government surveillance policies, identifying policies that infringe upon the human right to privacy, and proposing potential laws that could be used to govern and regulate surveillance on a global scale. The UN Human Rights Council seems to understand that online privacy is intrinsically linked to other rights—such as the freedom of speech or the freedom of expression—and that protecting one is to protect all three.

Unfortunately, it will likely be years before the United Nations can rein in the United States government’s surveillance efforts or pressure the elimination of them entirely. In the meantime, individuals and organizations alike are in a position of having to take matters into their own hands to make sure that their online privacy rights are preserved.

Luckily, by adopting a DMS like eFileCabinet, you can protect your organization’s files and communications with superior cyber security. Our software offers numerous state-of-the-art online security features, including 256-bit AES encryption on all files. This encryption is active both when files are at rest (stored on our servers) or during data transferring. As a result, even if your files are intercepted as part of a mass surveillance effort, they cannot be accessed. eFileCabient also boasts an advanced client portal called SecureDrawer, which allows you to transfer data to your clients, partners, or customers—including foreign contacts—in a much more secure fashion than is possible with email.

Are you interested in learning more about how eFileCabinet can protect your organization and clients from the infringement of online privacy? Click here to read about our online security features.