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The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating in the West
The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating in the West
Jeff Israely

For most of human history, the best way to protect personal privacy was to simply stay at home. Lock yourself in your room, or the proverbial closet, and nobody can find out a thing. In little more than a decade, those walls and doors have vanished as digital technology invites us to take large chunks of our lives online. Without ever leaving home (or while scrolling our smartphones in an empty forest), we are now vulnerable to a world of connected spies, data miners, identity usurpers, trackers and any number of other private and public-sector violators of what we hold to be confidential information.

The debate over electronic privacy has been escalating ever since in the West: from Edward Snowden's accusations against the state, to those aimed at commercial tech giants like Facebook and Amazon, to the rogue producers of deep fakes and other nefarious trolls. Meanwhile, authoritarian governments — exposed momentarily to the power of the internet to drive dissent — have quickly taken the upper hand in using digital technology as a tool for control. Yes, until two months ago, the lines on the privacy question seemed drawn quite clearly.

Leave it to a highly contagious and lethal disease to quickly blur those lines. With countries in the West preparing to ease unprecedented national and regional shutdowns, officials are looking to include a range of required (or at least strongly urged) digital testing and tracking tools to limit new outbreaks of COVID-19. Mobile phone applications that force people to share personal health data and reveal their location and other forms of relinquishing control of their personal information are now considered integral to ensuring that normal life can begin to resume. We're told it worked in South Korea and China, where concerns about data privacy are either less ingrained in the culture, or simply smothered by the authorities.

All of this may be bringing that old trade-off full circle: If you really want to protect your privacy, you must again stay inside. Let's ponder that alongside the even more pressing worry about preserving our very lives if we venture outside.

None of these tensions are easy to resolve, especially with so little truly known about the nature of this virus. What is the immediate risk of being in public places? What is the longer-term price of keeping our economies on hold? When will it all be over?

Meanwhile, longer-lasting moral questions, like privacy, hover just above it all. For now, a sense of tentative pragmatism seems to prevail, as a crisis of this magnitude prompts citizens to put their fate in the hands of the state for lack of any other viable solution. So if the government says so, most people are probably prepared to share some of their personal information to feel safer — we have, after all, gotten used to knowing that our data is being shared and our smartphone maps know where we are. But after two months of quarantine, one thing we're not used to right now: Going outside.


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Geopolitics

Why The 'Perfect Storm' Of Iran's Protests May Be Unstoppable

The latest round of anti-regime protests in Iran is different than other in the 40 years of the Islamic Republic: for its universality and boldness, the level of public fury and grief, and the role of women and social media. The target is not some policy or the economy, but the regime itself.

A woman holds a lock of her hair during a London rally to protest the murder of Mahsa Amini in London

Roshanak Astaraki

-Analysis-

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Tehran on Sept. 16, after a possible beating at a police station, has sparked outrage and mass protests in Iran and abroad. There have been demonstrations and a violent attempt to suppress them in more than 100 districts in every province of Iran.

These protests may look like others since 2017, and back even to 1999 — yet we may be facing an unprecedented turning point in Iranians' opposition to the Islamic Republic. Indeed newly installed conservative President Ibrahim Raisi could not have expected such momentum when he set off for a quick trip to New York and back for a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

For one of the mistakes of a regime that takes pride in dismissing the national traditions of Iran is to have overlooked the power of grief among our people.

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