We are undisputedly living in the age of technology and rapid technological development. Trying to swim against the tide may prove to be pointless given Big Tech’s (Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon / sometimes Microsoft’s) ever-increasing eyes on private persons, governments and businesses across the world. Purportedly driven by the desire to make people’s lives easier and more efficient, these technology giants have not been shy to brazenly show their intention to blur the lines of user privacy. Those that wish to oppose will not have access to their social media platforms, as most notably all the citizens of Australia found out when the Australian government decided to take on Google.
Privacy is a basic human right and recognized in every jurisdiction. It is therefore not surprising when it is infringed or when Big Tech edges further from the desire to improve people’s lives and closer to an Orwellian Big Brother. However, the roles seemed to be reversed in a recent Reuters report which saw a new law in India now obliging social media companies to provide authorities with the identity of the first originator of information which WhatsApp wants to prevent. The company, owned by Facebook Inc., stated that it cannot identify its users who spread misinformation, as messages are encrypted end-to-end. This means that the encryption would need to be removed for the recipient to be able to determine who sent the information. The tracing of individuals through their messages is quoted by WhatsApp as being “fundamentally undermining people’s privacy rights.”
To view this as completely truthful may be naïve – it is hard to imagine Facebook turning over a new egalitarian leaf with its long history of (privacy-infringement) controversy. It is trite that by living in the age of technology and social media, we are also living in the age of mass information and mass misinformation, though this is not limited to only tech companies. The Indian government was reported saying that it wished to trace only misinformation and not requiring the encryption to be broken.
South Africa’s telecoms are dealt with in terms of RICA (the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act) and deals with requirements for interception of firstly, “communications content” which are the emails, messages, social media and secondly, “communications-related information” which is the information about the emails, messages etc. The position of telecom surveillance is also regulated largely in the Criminal Procedure Act, specifically S20 which entails a judge, regional court magistrate or magistrate being able to take evidence as to an alleged offence while this section is still subject to RICA.
If you need any assistance in protecting your right to privacy, do not hesitate to contact us.