June 17, 2015 Vasil Terziev

Openness and privacy online – two sides of the same coin

There have been many discussions about the topics of privacy and openness in the cyberspace and both are regarded as completely separate. A new perspective focuses on the notion that these issues are interconnected and of equal importance.

The proponents of openness focus on benefits such as technological development, cost savings and citizen participation. And it is not only in theory, as this idea is implemented in some parts of the world. A real-life example is the one with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in the US which in the 1980s decided to make its data public. Today we have a billion-dollar weather industry including apps, forecasts and websites.

It is not, however, always positive and straightforward as one might hope. Personal information protection is still important, since free access to it could easily lead to untraceable abuses. According to the CEO of Privacy International, privacy is “the governing framework to control access to, collection and usage of information.” The strongest argument for privacy control is, in fact, protection of personal data.

People’s motivation behind both privacy and openness stems from the same idea of being in control of your choices.

Another important aspect of the privacy-openness issue consists of the transparency related to power issue. In more simple terms the more power you have, the higher accountability you should have in front of society. However, hardships arise when defining power, as it can be political, social or monetary. So far, we have only one field partly covered – the political power and more precisely the PEP (Politically Exposed Persons) databases. People who are in any way in close relationship with politicians – kin or business. There should not be separation between data protection and openness regulations but rather one framework controlling yet encouraging open information.

A few examples from the real world further complicate the issue. For example in Sweden there is free access to tax records, while in Germany such data output is off limits and has many opponents. But at the end of the day you want data protection for the same reason you want openness – you want to know whatever the government has on you is true and confirmable. Open data conversations need privacy groups which will act as counter-weight.

This approach should not clarify all uncertainties but it should give a push to one somewhat frozen issue. Maybe using this point of view as a starting ground could lead both sides towards working for one common goal.

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