Declaration of Privacy

This is your chance to write the text of the “Declaration of Privacy”, a document calling for new privacy rights as mentioned in out discussion about human rights. The declaration is a short text, similar to historical declarations of sovereignty or rights, which could then be signed and supported by various people, organisations and companies.

Please use this thread to post your proposed text or ideas. The Declaration should be practical and achievable.

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Hi @borja. This could be something interesting for you to be involved in too? See also the Human Rights thread.

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Thanks for the heads up @aschrijver. I’m in!

I wrote a while ago a manifesto. I hope we can use some of this ideas:

  • It starts by understanding that change is possible and it’s up to us. It’s always been that way.

  • Privacy is a human right. It is the right to own your value as a person. As Edward Snowden said, “Privacy is the right to a free mind. Without privacy, you can’t have anything for yourself.“

  • Data is our personal property. We own it, control it and (if we choose to) we profit from it, not them. Data is one of our most valuable assets, we shouldn’t give it away for free.

  • Data should work for us, not against us. It should be used to create a better version of ourselves — not to exploit our vulnerabilities and steal our value as humans.

  • Privacy is a global issue. So it requires a global solution, we can’t tackle it locally.

  • Public interest prevails over private profits. Commercial interests can’t surpass human rights.

  • Change never comes from the ones thriving on the status quo.

  • Technology is neutral, you can use it to oppress or to liberate.


Thanks @borja, you have a very interesting manifesto. It’s without a doubt true that “public interest prevails over private profits”!!

To get the discussion going, what do people think about the idea that data about somebody is their own personal property?

I think this is an interesting idea, but it’s very abstract and different. Since we’re talking about ownership of information, that might be the realm of things like copyrights and database rights which I think form the basis for current legal information ownership.

Under present law, facts are not copyrightable. For example, our names, addresses, phone numbers, and our histories (including what we do online) are not copyrightable. That is for good reason, otherwise we couldn’t even write about things and people without breaking the law! On the other hand things we publish and photos like comments are copyrightable.

There is another form of protection, database rights, where somebody’s spent a little creative effort to create an ordered database of what could otherwise be non-copyrightable facts. For example according to US case law a database of restaurants names and addresses would not qualify for this kind of protection, unless somebody has taken the effort to say figure out what type of food each place serves. So even if we created a database of our own activities (excluding creative works), I’m not sure it would even be protected by database law unless we somehow creatively organised it. And therefore we might not be able to say we “own” it unless the law changes.

Given this, I would say that the common use of phrases like “our information” and “your data” which we see all over the press and even academia seem to be inaccurate. “Our”, “my” and “your” are possessives that imply ownership.

What is the copyright policy of this forum? I remember a time here when users couldn’t even delete past posts they wrote themselves. As posts are copyrighted, that means that somewhere here people must have been agreeing to have their automatic copyrights transferred to the Humane Tech forums? Or does that happen automatically since we are writing here?

Maybe none of this matters. We don’t need to own data about ourselves to protect it. There are many laws already in place regarding privacy policies, including the EU Data Protection Directive. These give people privacy rights but not ownership.

There are guidelines such as the UN Human Rights Council’s resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age and the OECD’s Recommendations of the Council Concerning Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Trans-Border Flows of Personal Data. If these were strongly actually enacted upon and put into country laws, would that be enough?

There is also a movement to create new kinds of ownership rights for data we create about ourselves. Here is a recent book-sized paper on the topic:


“We propose a property rules construct that clearly defines a right to own digital information arises upon creation (whether by keystroke or machine), and suggest when and how that right attaches to specific data though the exercise of technological controls.”

I’m not an expert on this topic and could be wrong. The above is just what I always assumed to be true based on what I know about the world. That’s why I’m asking, what do you think?

I’ll propose here another interpretation of privacy for our data, taken from Luciano Floridi, one of the most relevant philosophers about technology and ethics nowadays in Europe (video here). Instead of considering my data as own by me, it’s more fair to consider them as part of me, like my heart or my feelings. They constitute me. This paradigm change has implications in how we consider privacy and in how thus we can protect it. I think this is a shift we must take if we want to fully understand what our data are and represent for us, since the ownership metaphor (coming from 19th century private property culture and history) loses more and more grasp.


I believe this is a good starting point @micheleminno

Even experts are wrong on this, because we’re dealing with something we haven’t dealt before–no one can predict the future, not me, not you, not even experts. But with each interaction we can be more precise, and this is what we’re doing here :slight_smile:

I think there’s a semantics problem when we talk about privacy, especially when we talk about ownership. When we say ownership, we think in terms of physical possesion, and when it comes to the digital world it’s just copyright. (I know I’m leaving a lot of things out of the table here, but I just want to simplify the point.)

I believe we’re using these words (I do use them) because the lack of a better word. We just don’t have the experience dealing with digital properties–we just don’t. And when it comes to data, we need a different word, a word that’ll come with experience.

So I think the best way to start defining something is to define what it is not. This is where manifestos come in handy.


Thank you @micheleminno for introducing us to Luciano Floridi, truly one of the greatest experts on technology ethics.

In his philosophies, full privacy for all is not a desirable goal state. He gives the example of terrorists wanting privacy. Also, too much privacy and we miss out not just on connecting with others, but also on many of the benefits of being connected to the ever growing network of data. For example in the realm of health we can already be telling people they have a high chance of developing some disease or having some kind of accident, but due to our sense of caution and privacy we’re currently not warning people and they’re getting sick and worse. Lack of preventative action due to being overly cautious about privacy can be just as bad ethically as doing nothing when somebody needs help or guidance in order to survive.

Thank you also @borja for your comments about semantics. You’re right that data we create is a part of us, that it belongs to us like our names and our bodies belong to us and are a part of us.

We live in a world where we need to improve how we handle data however. To that end perhaps we should scrap the idea of “privacy” as the end of all ends and look for more appropriate terminology to express our desired final goal, which as I have stated in “Reflections on the community’s Mission Statement” could be “To Connect Ethics and Technology to Create a Better World”.

To that end, we could change the title to something such as “Declaration of Technology Rights” or even style it as a declaration of philosophical sovereignty of a new world, “Declaration to Unite Ethics and Technology for the Creation of a Better World”.

Maybe we should investigate some terminology that is already commonly used in these domains and see how they relate. Maybe afterwards we can come up with a cool twist to them, or model to make the relationships clearer.

I mean, we have Privacy, Ethics, Digital Citizenship, Digital Ownership, Digital Rights, etc. Create something of a domain model (diagram even?)

I think what’s most important is what’s at the top of the model.

Seems “ethics” might be on the top. I have been searching for other words to express this so any suggestions would be helpful.

Life - Environment - Technology
Animals - Plants
Rights - Digital Citizenship
Ownership - Privacy

But this is getting too complicated too fast, because maybe we’re not even interested in full privacy as a desirable end state (see my comments above), and there are other ways of solving this problem besides rights. Simplified:

Life - Environment - Technology

Where the key of this chain is that we as humans connect ethics (or whatever we should call it) with the quantitative / business side of technology.