Transhumanism: Is our Privacy is Non-Existent?

 

For many, the notion of freedom is essential. Some chiefly defend restraining free individuals, when others advocate that self-disciplined individuals are free. In capitalist societies, some argue that men and women strive for economic freedom. Hence, the philosophical question follows, what the concept of freedom de facto entails.

A very useful distinction to comprehend the notion of freedom has been introduced by Isaiah Berlin in his essay “Two Concepts of Liberty” (1958). Berlin (1958) argues that there are two chiefly advocated definitions of freedom: i) negative or freedom from; ii) positive or freedom to. Negative freedom was fundamentally introduced by the Enlightment social contract theorists, such as: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke or Jean-Jacque Rousseau. For these thinkers, “the area of men’s free action must be limited by law” (Berlin, 1958: 4) due to our egoistic desire to have power over others. For instance, I may have a shotgun, whereas you may not have one. Through my possession of the shotgun, I may coerce you to act against your will, since you may fear that if you do not follow my commands I may end your life. Therefore, the possession of the shotgun allows me to have power over you. This is synonymous to the relationship between a state and its citizens; the state has a monopoly of power over its citizens, whereas its citizens do not. Thus, the state has power to coerce its citizens to act against their (individual) will.

Berlin (1958: 15) claims further that some philosophers advocate positive freedom, which entails “self-direction” or “self-control”. Such philosophical tradition was echoed by Karl Marx, for whom being free entailed living one’s life in accordance to one’s will (Berlin, 1958: 15). However, as Berlin (1958: 28) later states, “The triumph of despotism is to force the slaves to declare themselves free.” I assert that positive freedom is a post-factum justification of negative freedom, for instance, the discourse on education. Citizens will discuss what a state-education ough to be, solely after they formally accept that their government has fundamentally stabilise internal and external security of their country. Thus, I would claim that positive freedom can be meaningfully asserted, after negative freedom has been secured. (Perhaps that is where confusion arises on what a state’s primal responsibility is.) From my conclusion, it follows that a state is fundamentally responsible for internal and external security.

A state’s responsibility in the transhumanist world?

The latest developments in the 21st cen. clearly imply that we will be more dependent on technology in order to improve our intelligence, well-being and existence (British Institute of Posthuman Studies, 2013). This is the essential argument of transhumanism. Transhumanist approach applied at the level of the United Kingdom’s government is translatable to its two new strategies: i) National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-2021 (NCSS) and ii) The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 (IPA)). NCSS and IPA ultimately reflect UK’s counter-terrorism programme and reaction to the Digital Age. As Home Secretary Amber Rudd stated, “The internet presents new opportunities and we must ensure we have the capabilities to confront this challenge. […] But it is also right that these powers are subject to strict safeguards and rigorous oversight.” (BBC, 2016).

As concluded in the section above, the state’s responsibility is significantly about negative freedom, and therefore primarily about protection of public sphere and not interferring into private sphere. However, there is fundamental evidence against such argument in both NCSS and IPA. For instance, in NCSS, the government favours encryption, which meant to protect personal data at the expense of ensurance that “there are no guaranteed ‘safe spaces’ for terrorists and criminals to operate beyond the reach of the law” (Cabinet Office et al., 2016: 52). Such statement calls for tighter and more vigilant security operations, which infringe citizens’ privacy. Similarly with IPA, which Edward Snowden criticised to be “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” (The Guardian, 2016a). IPA could “[force] service providers to generate and store records of all our internet histories. Every site we visit, every app we open, every piece of software we download.” (The Guardian, 2016b). Thankfully this Decemeber, the legislation was halted by the judgement of the European Court of Justice (The Guardian, 2016c).

To summarise, it seems that the UK government is not fulfilling its responsibility to its citizens (i.e. enforcing negative freedom) via intervening further into citizens’ private sphere. Such conclusion is not substantially new or unique, and the government is more likely to re-intervene due to the transhumanist world that we are living in. This inevitably leads us to fundamental questions in the 21st cen.: Did the invention of the internet ‘deleted’ our private space? Do we solely interact in public sphere? Is our privacy non-existent?

 

Bibliography

BBC (2016) ’Snoopers law creates security nightmare’. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-38134560 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

Berlin, I. (1958) “Two Concepts of Liberty.” In Isaiah Berlin (1969) Four Essays on Liberty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available at: https://www.wiso.uni-hamburg.de/fileadmin/wiso_vwl/johannes/Ankuendigungen/Berlin_twoconceptsofliberty.pdf (Accessed: 27 December 2016).

British Institute of Posthuman Studies (2013) PostHuman: An introduction to Transhumanism. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTMS9y8OVuY&index=2 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

Cabinet Office, National security and intelligence, The Rt Hon Philip Hammond and HM Treasury (2016) National Cyber security strategy 2016 to 2021. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-cyber-security-strategy-2016-to-2021 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

The Guardian (2016a) ‘Extreme surveillance’ becomes UK law with barely a whimper. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/19/extreme-surveillance-becomes-uk-law-with-barely-a-whimper (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

The Guardian (2016b) Surveillance has gone too far. The jig is up. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/22/government-surveillance-eu-court-ruling-investigatory-powers-act-private-lives (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

The Guardian (2016c) EU’s highest court delivers blow to UK snooper’s charter. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/dec/21/eus-highest-court-delivers-blow-to-uk-snoopers-charter (Accessed: 30 December 2016).

 

 

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One thought on “Transhumanism: Is our Privacy is Non-Existent?

  1. Unlike the internet of 20 years ago, (1) much of the internet is privately owned, and (2) much of our online interactions are monetized. So there is increasingly less “public sphere” online and conversely there is an increasing privatization of the internet.

    As far as personal privacy, there are dangerous threats to our personal privacy, just as there are offline. To a great extent, individuals can control these threats using proxies, ad-block, search engines that do not store data (such as StartPage), and other privacy tools. This is absolutely no different from private home-owners using security systems or other offline analogies. And, just like pre-internet privacy concerns, our privacy online is threatened most by the State. Programs like the NSA have shown the extreme danger of private companies being compelled to share mass data with government.

    A libertarian approach would be to abolish the NSA (along with non-technological agencies) and to stop gathering information about private citizens. In addition, tools to protect personal privacy can continue to be advocated and should be permissible to develop and sell.

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