Do Mauritians Have A Private Life?

Before you go deleting every single one of your online accounts and refusing to share any of your private information, take note of an adage as old as time: do everything in moderation.
Before you go deleting every single one of your online accounts and refusing to share any of your private information, take note of an adage as old as time: do everything in moderation.

Almost every single day we are reminded just how little control we have left over our private lives and issues regarding our privacy.

This, to a large extent, has to do with the fact that our lives have gone from being traditional reality-driven ones to digital and virtual ones thanks to the advancement of the Internet and all sorts of social media tools at our fingertips now. But access to information and the Internet is a sharp double-edged sword that has since begun showing its very dark side of late and it’s doubtful that this dark side will see an end anytime soon. In addition to this, tech-based companies not interested in adhering to privacy rights, only add to the continuing problems we are starting to face.

One of the more recent and alarming examples of this dark side can be seen with the Sony movie, The Interview. The film was stopped from being released in cinemas worldwide by a highly organised hacking attempt but instead became the highest grossing internet release to date. Privacy, particularly concerning the Internet and its usage, is increasingly becoming a concerning factor for users across the world and it is no different in Mauritius it would appear.

In an article appearing in a Mauritian daily newspaper, allegations of a particular device have surfaced saying that the device in question was housed at the police headquarters in Port Louis and was able to record telephonic conversations across mobile and landline devices. The surfacing of such information was also accompanied by the supposed reassurance that it had been switched off as soon as the new government came into office.

Whether this is true or not it is certainly a major cause for concern and forces us to ask how private our supposed private lives truly are. It’s bad enough that social media has so vehemently wedged its way into our lives and minds without the accompanying worries of this information being exposed to just about the whole world against our will. We find ourselves in an era where information is the currency around which just about everything revolves including those who are itching to get their hands on it for dishonourable reasons.

Add to this how badly informed people seem to be concerning their privacy and you surely have a recipe for disaster. When people are not informed about just how public their online habits are, they leave themselves very much at the hands of hackers and online threats. Pertinent personal information, when not adequately safeguarded can easily fall into the wrong hands and it’s not long before malicious gossip and borderline invasions of privacy is occurring more and more rapidly. In a smaller, closer knit society like Mauritius, privacy is increasingly becoming something people are battling to keep control over and some will even go the extent of removing themselves from the online world completely just to maintain some kind of private control over their own lives. The need and demand for wanting to know what is going on in each other’s lives without talking to each other is truly scary.

Ironic isn’t it? How we are being forced to retreat even more into our own worlds despite the advent of the Internet and how quickly we are able to gain access to all kinds of information. It is a world of extremes, either we are in the thick of the information exchange – often sacrificing our private lives in order to do so – or completely disconnected from the online sphere and with it almost considered non-existent. We find ourselves asking how far we need to be involved in the online world in order to be considered relevant? If we don’t post activity online about our lives, have we really done it?

Then there is the question of how government plays a role in citizens’ online and/or digital privacy. Take a look at the longstanding battle that took place around the implementation of the new biometric ID card system in Mauritius. The card, which was to be adopted locally, required citizens to have their fingerprints scanned in order for the whole idea of a biometric-run system to prevail. It was boasted that administration surrounding such a system would be made easier and in turn criminal activity was to be thwarted when such a system came into effect. The bone of contention however came with the questions of security that arose around the fingerprinting. Thumbprints, according to an article published by a local doctor, were sufficient in order to carry out such a system but people were required to give fingerprints of their entire hand calling into question what exactly this databank of prints was going to be used for. More over, the fear of this databank falling into the wrong hands was pointed out as the rollout for conversion started.

Subsequently, the new government has maintained that the databank will be destroyed and the system implementation was halted in place. With more attention being given to our online privacy as the days go on, one must ask if this matter is one that requires constitutional inclusion? Should online privacy and digital related matters be included in that of country’s constitutions?

In the International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners held on the island last October, the link between data protection and human rights was keenly established saying that it was a fundamental necessity in order to protect the rights of human beings as the advent of data usage had extended into that of the realm of human rights-related issues. Not only is it interesting to note that this is how far human rights matters have progressed but also to note that if the world is already barely keeping afloat with basic human rights-related issues, how much bite will such constitutional inclusions truly have if they are ever implemented?

Before you go deleting every single one of your online accounts and refusing to share any of your private information, take note of an adage as old as time: do everything in moderation. Inform yourself about how social media sites work and make sure you understand the security settings before making anything public because once it is public, it is out there for the long haul. Don’t post anything online that you aren’t prepared to say out loud to a crowd full of strangers!

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