Monday, December 9, 2013

Privacy, security and gender violence

by Prabha Sridevan

Privacy is a difficult word to understand. There is a view, that it is a Western notion and not understood by us. When I wrote a piece an article on Privacy and private space in Tamil, I created my own words for it, I called it Enmai and Than veli. But with increasing blurring of anything that belongs to me alone, one must first understand what privacy means..

Daniel J. Solove[1] captures it under six headings.

1) The right to be let alone

2) The ability to shield oneself from unwanted access by others

3) Concealment of certain matters from others

4) The ability to exercise control over information about oneself

5) Personhood –protection of one’s personality, individuality and dignity

6) Intimacy-Control over or limited access to one’s intimate relationships or aspects of life.

This fairly explains the different aspects of privacy. We expect this to be respected. If this is trespassed upon, there is a violation of our rights. It is doubtful if all these rights translate into legal rights. The area of protection is seen as dimly as our concept of privacy itself. When we talk of trespass it is clear that we are objects seen by others and not subjects capable of deciding our selves.

The 20th and the 21st centuries will witness the destruction of the walls of the personal space. Sometimes we voluntarily cede facets of our privacy; sometimes this right is abridged without our volition. “Privacy has value relative to normative conceptions of spiritual personality , political freedom, health and welfare, human dignity and autonomy......The threat to liberalism is that our lives are being emptied of privacy on a daily basis, especially physical and informational privacy”[2] Where previously one was at the centre of making a decision regarding furnishing information about oneself, now because of the very nature of this Internet world this right becomes denuded of any force. We really have no control over the extent to which data about oneself can be used by known and unknown “others” when we click Yes on the privacy Policy on someone’s home page. The possibilities are endless.

When we speak of security it is protection from offences committed against our person and property. We turn to the State when an offence is committed, which has the duty to process the complaint, conduct investigation and punish the offender. The game changes when the space violated is the private space. Today investigation uses technology which facilitates greater intrusion into the private lives of not only the offenders but even the complainants. Big Brother and His Thought Police are already here. As I noted earlier the technological march has both its pluses and minuses, and the danger is that we do not recognise the violations as acts of coercions. Surveillance, interrogation, telephone tapping, collecting bio-metric data and more goes on in the name of security and on parallel track it is increasing intrusion into privacy.

Now we come to the woman. The entry or occupation by women in the various spaces is increasing, women are there as workers, consumers, patients, litigants, professionals. While on the one hand her security is not guaranteed, the urban young woman does not want to lag behind observing earlier caveats of going out in the dark at one’s risk. Old perceptions of how a woman should dress, walk, behave or talk, have not died. So every movement away is seen either as an assault on the site of honour, which is the woman herself, or as an implicit statement of consent by her . While these perceptions still prevail, ironically the woman is being objectified increasingly. So the woman out there can be joked about, ogled at, drooled around or even packaged as a commodity. The society sees the women as an undeniable presence. There are advertisements of women enticing, luring men and the audience which enjoys these sights becomes in a moment conservative when the sister or daughter at home expresses her choice. This expression of her choice is quelled by violence. Violence against women is one of the enduring factors which come in the way of women’s empowerment. A dignity based response is muted by repression, denial and manipulation, and women themselves are blamed for the violence and consequently silenced from protesting or seeking justice for the violence that has been done to her. This silence in turn contributes to more violence and accentuates the negative impact it has on a woman socially, psychologically and otherwise. So, it is really a culture of silence and not a culture of violence. The Internet space also increases the risk of vulnerability. “The underpinning of a claim not to be watched without leave will be more general if it can be grounded in this way on the principle of respect for person other than on a utilitarian duty to avoid inflicting suffering.”[3] If we use “watch without leave” as a metaphor for any unwelcome behaviour or an act without her consent, we will see that the basis is Respect for the Right to Dignity and Equality of Women

[1] Conceptualizing Privacy 90 Cal.L.Rev.1087 (2002)
[2] Anita L.Allen 40 Wm &mary L.Rev 723 (1999)
[3] Stanley L.Benn” Privacy Freedom and Respect for Persons”.

Justice (Retd) Prabha Sridevan is a former judge of the Madras High Court, and the former chairperson of the Intellectual Property Appellate Board. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi!

    I read your blog such a helpful to me…… Thank you for posting…..!!!
    Thanky Thanky for all this good informatoin!

    Security Audit Chennai