Privacy, Technology Law and Religions across Cultures

Article excerpt

'Information law, including the law of privacy and of intellectual property, is especially likely to benefit from a coherent and comprehensive theory of information ethics ...'

Dan L. Burk

'We are at the beginning of what I call intercultural information ethics, whose aim is not just to compare similar or dissimilar concepts by juxtaposing them, or to look for a conceptual or even moral consensus--but to become aware of our mutual biases on the basis of a nuanced understanding of similarities and dissimilarities beyond the simple dichotomy between "East" and "West"'

Rafael Capurro

'Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted.... To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair, it loses its very soul.'

Pope Benedict XVI

1. Introduction

The debate on 'Privacy and Information Technology' has been predominantly carried out from a 'Western' perspective for over forty years. It is only relatively recently that an interest has arisen in examining where other cultures, such as those which characterise China and Muslim societies, may stand on similar issues. In an effort at contextualising the debate, this paper will set out to map where we are in the complex landscape that is the intercultural debate on privacy, occasionally pausing to get a glimpse on how we possibly got here, focusing on who the actors are almost as much as on what they have to say about the matter. In this sense it is more of an overview than an in-depth review of any one particular aspect of the privacy debate: expect an aerial view of the terrain which attempts to outline the bigger picture before enticing the reader to later plunge deeper into the undergrowth.

The terrain in this case is one marked by at least five major religions which had already started to 'go global' a thousand years and more before the Internet and commerce made globalization a popular term. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, (Confucian-based) Chinese traditional religion and Buddhism together account for well over 5 billion adherents out of the world's 6.3 billion Population (2). While at first this may give rise to the hope that an examination of privacy across religions need only start off by seeking harmony and consensus across these five major religious systems, it will be seen that religion is but one element in a complex multi-cultural and intercultural scenario.

This paper may incidentally also provide a tiny contribution to the growing debate about the complex links between religion, law and information technology. Since its very beginnings, the relatively young discipline of Information & Technology Law has concerned itself with the flow of information within society and the resultant impact on the distribution of power within society. That particular focus has manifested itself in various ways and particularly in the long-running debates on data protection law and freedom of information legislation. The introduction of data protection law provoked a new interest in privacy as a fundamental human right and has led to a string of related legislative and judicial developments especially in countries like Germany. These developments have been variously chronicled elsewhere but have led to the inception of new rights like 'informational self-determination' and even 'on-line privacy'. (3) While some leading European jurisdictions come up with such developments, others outside Europe are considering the wisdom of signing up to the Council of Europe's 1981 Data Protection Convention (4) while some inside Europe (5) are calling for a wholesale review of the EU's Directive 46 of 1995 which is largely based on the COE's 1981 convention. These varied and sometimes apparently conflicting developments in that part of ICT law we today bundle under the umbrella of 'Privacy & Data Protection' compel us to think more deeply about the values underlying privacy, where they come from, how they have developed and where they may or should be going. …