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Privacy i(n)t context

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The right to privacy, or the right to respect for private life, as the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees it, has been affected by the IT growth era. Privacy has long been protected, but will face a new dimension of protection for the generations to come. The right to respect for private life is not an absolute one, and may have a different feature in different context.

By Niemitz v. Germany judgment (1992) the European Court on Human Rights (‘the ECtHR’) included the right to connect with other individuals into the notion of private life, saying that it would be too restrictive to limit the notion of an ‘inner circle’ to personal life and exclude there from entirely the outside world not encompassed within that circle. The right to communicate was thus inserted into the privacy context.

But the extent of communication and technologies which enable it significantly changed since.

Few decades ago, it mainly consisted of personal communication, communication by conventional letters and phone communication. At the time the Convention was adopted in the mid last century, there was no internet, not even mobile/cell phones, nor personal computers. The feature of privacy protection was much more simple then today.

Now, when we approach the rule of IoT (internet of things) communication, not only do people communicate, but ‘things’ as well. The subject of that ‘non-human’ communication may also be private data of individuals. At the same time, the individual, human communication became more simple, available at any time, and versatile by its means.

New society digital evolution becomes a special challenge when speaking of the protection of privacy. Availability of every person not only in physical life but in cyber life as well, upgrades the privacy to a new sphere. If we do ourselves chose to use social networking, Skype, Instagram, Twitter, Yahoo Messenger, Linkedin, Facebook, the later being ‘the most powerful database of persons ever on internet’ as rightfully noted by prof. Bajrektarević, in his book ‘Is there life after Facebook?’ as well as other internet features, we must be aware that our privacy may come into the open. If we add to that e-context a physical surrounding of a working place, under certain conditions, the feature of privacy changes, i.e. it becomes less protected then in the context of an earthbound private circle, the surrounding which was in mind of lawmakers when adopting for instance the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950.

Recently, at the table of the ECtHR was the case of Barbulescu v. Romania (judgment enacted in January 2016), where the question arose of whether an employer is entitled to look into his employer’s private messages at Yahoo Messenger. The messages were written by the employee during the working time, at the computer owned by the employer. The employer monitored and made transcript of messages made at the Yahoo Messenger account that was created at the employer’s request for the purposes of contacts with clients, but the transcript also contained five short messages that Mr. Barbulescu exchanged with his fiancee using a personal Yahoo Messenger account.

The ECtHR found no violation of the right to respect the private life by such actions of the employer.

The ECtHR noted that the employer did not warn the employee of the possibility of checks of the Yahoo Messenger. However, the company where Mr. Barbulescu worked did adopt internal rules according to which it was strictly forbidden to use computers, photocopiers, telephones, telex and fax machines for personal purposes. Can that be seen as a warning? Does it give an employer a right to monitor personal messages of an employee?

We may wonder if the ECtHR gave the advantage to a market economy and profit growth, versus privacy? Did it give to employer the right to control the employee even if that would mean invading his privacy? This, under certain conditions, like internal policy rules or warning, gives the employers the right to rule the employees space, of course, during work hours, and their right to monitor the job done by his employees may be stronger then their right to privacy.

However one should be careful in concluding that all employers may now freely snoop into their employees’ e-mails, tweets, messages etc.

The ECtHR took into consideration the ‘expectation of privacy’, which Mr. Barbulescu, the employee, had regarding his communications. The internal rules of the employer which strictly prohibited the use of computers for private purposes, made the decisive shift towards ruling in favor of non violation. He probably should not have expected to have his privacy respected in such circumstances. But in the absence of such rules and in the absence of warning, any such intruding into employees’ private communication would rise an issue of privacy protection.

With the fast development of society and technology, the privacy is much more vulnerable, and it apparently affects its legal protection.

Almost two decades ago in the case of Halford v. UK the same ECtHR decided that tapping of Ms. Halford’s phone at the office did constitute a violation of her right to respect of her private life. Without being warned that one’s calls would be liable to monitoring the person would have reasonable expectation that his privacy is protected (Halford v. UK 1997). In Amann v. Switzerland ECtHR judgment (2000) telephone calls from business premises pursue to be clearly covered by ‘private life’ notion.

The ECtHR further spread the privacy protection to e-mails sent from work in the Copland v. United Kingdom judgment (2007). In this case it also decided that monitoring of telephone usage in the way of analysis of business telephone bills, telephone numbers called, the dates and times of the calls, duration and cost, constituted “integral element of the communications made by telephone”, and made an interference into the privacy. Moreover, the ECtHR was of the view that the storing of personal data relating to the private life of an individual also fell under the protection of the Article 8, being irrelevant whether it was or was not disclosed or used against the person. It further held that that ‘e-mails sent from work should be similarly protected under Article 8, as should information derived from the monitoring of personal Internet usage’ like analysing the websites visited.

In Halford and Copland case the personal use of an office telephone or e-mail or was either expressly or tacitly allowed by the employer. Accordingly the ECtHR found a violation of privacy when the employer intruded therein. In Barbulescu, on the other hand, due to the internal regulations that forbid the private use of computers, the ECtHR did not consider a monitoring by employer to be a violation of his privacy, although the intrudment happened in the form of making the transcript of employee’s messages and keeping that transcript. The ECtHR considered that ‘broad reading of Article 8 does not mean, however, that it protects every activity a person might seek to engage in with other human beings in order to establish and develop such relationships’ (Barbulescu para 35)

We can see that the position of employer towards allowing or non allowing phone, e-mail, or internet usage, made a diference as to the employee’s expectation of privacy. But can we add to that the more open communication, as a reason of lowering the level of the ‘expectation of privacy’?

It still remains up to the individual how he/she shall expose his/her privacy. The means of multiple communication, are now in everyone’s pocket, and a person does not have to use a land phone line, in order to call home. By simple touching the screen he/she may communicate, share, like, tweet, comment. If it is done during working hours, it gives, under certain conditions, a possibility to employers to look into that ‘share’, ‘like’, ‘tweet’, ‘comment’ and still not to invade anyone’s privacy.

The more open the conversation is, its protection gets more demanding and complicated. So the protection of privacy remains a big test for the future.

The European Commission has launched an EU Data Protection Reform in 2012, in order to ‘make the Europe fit for the digital age.’ Strengthening citizens’ fundamental rights, Digital Single Market, are the areas that need special attention. Currently in force Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of the EU of 1995, provides that personal data is ‘any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person’.

Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (‘DPWP’), in 2002 adopted a Working Document on the Surveillance and the Monitoring of Electronic Communications in the workplace. According to that Document the mere fact that monitoring serves an employer’s interest could not justify an intrusion into workers’ privacy. Monitoring, according to the DPWP, must pass four tests: transparency, necessity, fairness and proportionality.

‘Workers do not abandon their right to privacy and data protection every morning at the doors of the workplace’ provides the Document, however, ‘this right must be balanced with other legitimate rights and interests of the employer, in particular the employer’s right to run his business efficiently to a certain extent’.

Under Directive 2002/58/EC concerning the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications sector (Directive on Privacy and Electronic Communications) of 2002 ‘Member States shall ensure the confidentiality of communications and the related traffic data by means of a public communications network and publicly available electronic communications services, through national legislation.’ It provides for the prohibition of ‘listening, tapping, storage or other kinds of interception or surveillance of communications and the related traffic data by persons other then users without the consent of the users concerned’. Exceptions may be made, inter alia, for the interests of national security, prevention of criminal offences or of unauthorised use of the electronic communication system etc.

Data protection of citizens will be a big challenge in future. The judge Pinto de Albuquerque in his partly dissenting opinion in Barbulescu case has criticized the ECtHR’s majority in missing the chance to develop its case-law in the field of protection of privacy with regard to Internet communications and for overlooking, inter alia, some important features like sensitivity of the employee’s communication and non-existence of Internet surveillance policy duly followed by the employer (apart from the above mentioned internal regulations forbidding the use of computers).

On one hand there is a request for privacy protection, while on the other hand, there is a request from the market economy/employers that the job be done. The interests of the two must always be fairly balanced, but with the speedy development of technology and the internet interaction, the danger of exposing private data rises. That is why the legal creators have a big responsibility to act ahead of time, which, in the IT context, is running at the light speed.

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International Law

Shaping a 21st-century world order amounts to a patchwork

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What do Moroccan arms sales to Ukraine, a transnational Russian Iranian transit corridor, and US assistance in developing a Saudi national strategy have in common?

Together with this week’s Russian-Iranian financial messaging agreement and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s December visit to Saudi Arabia, they are smaller and bigger fragments of a 21st-century world order in the making that is likely to be bi-polar and populated by multiple middle powers with significant agency and enhanced hedging capabilities.

So is the competition between rival US and Chinese technologies for which the jury is still out.

For the two likely dominant powers, the United States and China, the building blocks are efforts to line up their ducks in a bipolar world.

For Russia, they involve hanging on to its pre-Ukraine war status, in part by deploying its Wagner Group mercenaries to the Sahel; devising ways to circumvent sanctions; and hoping that time will work in its favour in what was supposed to be a blitzkrieg but has turned into a drawn-out slugging match.

For middle powers, the name of the game is carving out their own space, leveraging their enhanced influence, and seeking advantage where they can.

The result is that weaving the 21st century’s tapestry amounts to a patchwork in which some fragments will have long-term effects while others may not even register as a blip on the radar.

Take, for example, Morocco’s decision to give Ukraine some 20 refurbished Russian-made T-72B battle tanks. The deal made Morocco the first African, if not the first Global South nation, to militarily aid Ukraine.

The move, almost a year into the Ukraine war, is likely to have been motivated by short-term considerations, including Russia’s close ties to Morocco’s arch-rival Algeria and US recognition of Morocco’s claim to the formerly Spanish Western Sahara, rather than long-term 21st-century world order considerations.

Even so, Morocco’s breaking ranks with much of the Global South serves the US goal of sustaining the current world order in which it is the top dog, even if its power diminishes.

It doesn’t fundamentally affect China’s goal of rebalancing power in the existing order to ensure that it is bi- rather than unipolar.

The loser in the deal is Russia, which, like Iran, wants to see a new world order in which the United States is cut down to size.

The tank deal may not be a significant loss for Russia, but it does suggest that horse trading is a critical element in weaving the fabric of a new order.

So is mutual interest.

Like the arms sale, the agreement between Russia and Iran to create a financial messaging system that would allow their banks to transfer funds between one another and evade sanctions that block their access to the global SWIFT system is unlikely to have a major impact on the structure of the new world order.

Russian and Iranian efforts to link Europe with the Indian Ocean, centred on 3,000 kilometres of rail and sea and river shipping, are potentially far more significant.

The transport corridor would help reshape trade and supply networks in a world that seems set to divvy up into rival blocs. Moreover, it could shield Russia and Iran from US and European sanctions as they forge closer economic ties with fast-growing economies in Asia.

Russia and Iran are not just looking at India, which sits at one extreme of the corridor.

They also expect to capitalise on their links to China. All three are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), and China and Iran are close to becoming members of the Russia-dominated Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) free trade zone.

Of a similar potential impact on a future world order is US assistance in Saudi Arabia’s development of a first-time-ever long-term vision for the kingdom’s national security, an essential building block in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to modernize his military.

Saudi Arabia expects to disclose its strategy later this year. It would codify “the kingdom’s strategic vision for national security and regional security,” according to Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, who is advising his Saudi counterparts.

Shaping Saudi strategy as well as military modernization may be the United States’ best bet to imbue at least some of its values and complicate the establishment of similar defense ties with China or Russia. Moreover, it would enhance the kingdom’s ability to absorb and utilize US weapons systems.

“The Saudis, under MBS’s (Mohammed bin Salman’s) leadership, now recognize (their) deficiencies and seem, for the first time, determined to address them in partnership with the United States and to a degree with the United Kingdom,” said political-military analyst and former Pentagon official Bilal Y. Saab.

That will undoubtedly register on the geopolitical chessboard, even if small moves also count for something.

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International Law

Undemocratic United Nations and Global Peace

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War is not the solution to any problem rather war is a problem itself. Many countries believe in diplomacy and peaceful means of problem-solving and conflict resolution. But, unfortunately, many nations still seek solutions of problems and continuity of politics in wars.

If we look at any newspaper, we find too many armed conflicts going on around the globe. To name a few would include a catastrophic war between Russian Federation and Ukraine which has caused tens of thousands of casualties, with millions displaced. Decades-long civil wars and subsequent US-led NATO intervention and withdrawal has brought Afghanistan to the brink of famine and hunger. The whole Middle Eastern region is unstable and striving with civil wars for long. The Arab -Israel conflict and Kashmir Dispute have been there for more than seven decades.

Above-mentioned and many others examples of armed conflicts prove that there is no durable peace in the world. Here one thing that needs to be noted is that conflict is always inevitable among individuals, societies and nations, because the interests of individuals, societies and nations do not always converge. When there is divergence of interests, conflict arises.

What is needed to be done is the resolution of these conflicts. There are two ways to resolve conflicts: one is violent way (use of force) and the other is peaceful way (diplomacy and negotiations). More than seven decades ago, after World War 2, nations realized that war is not solution to any problem and they established United Nations Organization (UNO). Primary objective of UN was and is the maintenance of peace and security in the world.

But, if we look at history, it seems the UN has failed to achieve international peace and security. UN may have had role in preventing the outbreak of another world war, but it could not stop a series of conflicts from Korea, Vietnam to Afghanistan (during Cold War), and from Africa, Middle East to ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict.

This is a question mark on the credibility of UN, that why the UN despite being guardian of international peace and security cannot stop wars.

UN has six principal organs and many Specialized Agencies and Funds for different tasks.  Among them Security Council is the most powerful Organ and is mandated with enforcing international peace and security. UNSC uses two tools to enforce its decisions, one is applications of sanctions and the other is use of force (intervention).

However the concentration of power in the hands of five permanent states of Security Council, namely the United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia have been problematic. These five countries use veto power whenever they perceive any resolution to be against their national interest or against the interests of their allies. Throughout the Cold War, US and USSR had paralyzed UN by vetoing resolutions. Same happened with any other conflict including when US drafted a resolution to stop the war in Ukraine.

So, it is crystal clear that if UN (specifically Security Council) is not reformed, UN can not achieve its primary goal i.e. maintenance of peace and security. UN members and experts have talked about reform in Security Council. Experts have also given suggestions and proposals to make UN more democratic and representative. One of those proposals is abandoning veto and doubling the size of SC members. This can make UN more democratic and representative to some extent. But this is not an easy job. Firstly, because P5 are reluctant to abandon this privileged position (veto power). Secondly, countries hoping for permanent membership are opposed by other countries. For example, many European countries object Germany’s membership. Pakistan objects to India’s membership.

 Experts believe the solutions could be the democratization of UN system (particularly UNSC). This is done by involving General Assembly in the decision making regarding international peace and security. General Assembly is a symbol of democracy, representing almost all the states on the globe. Simple or two-third majority must be mandatory to make any decision regarding international peace and security. This could stop any powerful state to use UN as a tool for its own vested national interest , and the decision of majority will prevail. All the states, big and small, powerful and weak will have equal say in the UN. Otherwise the possibility of wars, violence, genocide and injustice will further increase.

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United States thinks it’s ‘the exception to the rules of war’

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The architects of those Nuremberg trials—representatives of the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France fully expected that the new United Nations would establish a permanent court where war criminals who couldn’t be tried in their home countries might be brought to justice. In the end, it took more than half a century to establish the International Criminal Court (ICC). Only in 1998 did 60 nations adopt the ICC’s founding document, the Rome Statute. Today, 123 countries have signed.

Guess what superpower has never signed the ICC? Here are a few hints? – writes Rebecca Gordon in an article at “The Nation”:

Its 2021 military budget dwarfed that of the next nine countries combined and was 1.5 times the size of what the world’s other 144 countries with such budgets spent on defense that year.

Its president has just signed a $1.7 trillion spending bill for 2023, more than half of which is devoted to “defense” (and that, in turn, is only part of that country’s full national security budget).

It operates roughly 750 publicly acknowledged military bases in at least 80 countries.

In 2003, it began an aggressive, unprovoked (and disastrous) war by invading a country 6,900 miles away.

Yes! The United States is that Great Exception to the rules of war.

While, in 2000, during the waning days of his presidency, Bill Clinton did sign the Rome Statute, the Senate never ratified it. Then, in 2002, as the Bush administration was ramping up its Global War on Terror, including its disastrous occupation of Afghanistan and an illegal CIA global torture program, the United States simply withdrew its signature entirely. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (photo) then explained why this way:

“The ICC provisions claim the authority to detain and try American citizens — U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, as well as current and future officials — even though the United States has not given its consent to be bound by the treaty. When the ICC treaty enters into force, U.S. citizens will be exposed to the risk of prosecution by a court that is unaccountable to the American people, and that has no obligation to respect the Constitutional rights of our citizens.”

The assumption built into Rumsfeld’s explanation was that there was something special — even exceptional — about US citizens. Unlike the rest of the world, we have “Constitutional rights,” which apparently include the right to commit war crimes with impunity.

Even if a citizen is convicted of such a crime in a US court, he or she has a good chance of receiving a presidential pardon. And were such a person to turn out to be one of the “current and future officials” Rumsfeld mentioned, his or her chance of being hauled into court would be about the same as mine of someday being appointed secretary of defense.

The United States is not a member of the ICC, but, as it happens, Afghanistan is. In 2018, the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, formally requested that a case be opened for war crimes committed in that country. ‘The New York Times’ reported that Bensouda’s “inquiry would mostly focus on large-scale crimes against civilians attributed to the Taliban and Afghan government forces.” However, it would also examine “alleged C.I.A. and American military abuse in detention centers in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, and at sites in Poland, Lithuania, and Romania, putting the court directly at odds with the United States.”

Bensouda planned an evidence-gathering trip to the United States, but in April 2019, the Trump administration revoked her visa, preventing her from interviewing any witnesses here. It then followed up with financial sanctions on Bensouda and another ICC prosecutor, Phakiso Mochochoko.

So where do those potential Afghan cases stand today? A new prosecutor, Karim Khan, took over as 2021 ended. He announced that the investigation would indeed go forward, but that acts of the United States and allies like the United Kingdom would not be examined. He would instead focus on actions of the Taliban and the Afghan offshoot of the Islamic State.

When it comes to potential war crimes, the United States remains the Great Exception. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were just a little less exceptional?

If, for instance, in this new year, we were to transfer some of those hundreds of billions of dollars Congress and the Biden administration have just committed to enriching corporate weapons makers, while propping up an ultimately unsustainable military apparatus, to the actual needs of Americans?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if just a little of that money were put into a new child tax credit? – asks Rebecca Gordon.

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