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Chapter: 

The Importance of Privacy in Asia

Privacy is one of the more complicated policy areas that you are likely to encounter.  It is a right that is often difficult to define.  Nearly everyone can see an advantage in its minimisation while the gains in protecting privacy are not immediately obvious.  Yet it is essential to what makes us human, and to the functioning of our communities, markets, societies, and political systems.  Privacy affects us on a number of levels in the roles that we play every day, as citizens and consumers, as friends and as family members. 

In recent years privacy has risen significantly on policy agendas around the world.  This is in part due to technological change, but also due to changes in the way people, markets, and our societies function.  The development of advanced systems of communications for instance permit continual tracking and enable 'always available' communications habits.  We also disclose more information for purposes that include exchanging goods with companies that hope to better understand us, relating to others through the use of social networking sites, and pronouncing our thoughts and ideas in the context of websites and blogging. 

Meanwhile, because of geopolitical and national political currents, our governments are collecting more information about us even as many are trying to regulate access to information to ensure that we have confidence in commercial transactions and have adequate protections.  Changes in the threats to security vary from new threats to individuals from online fraud and stalking, threats to organisations through hacking and denial of service attacks, threats to communities from crime, and threats to national security from other countries and terrorist organisations.  Privacy safeguards act as protectors of individuals from abuse while also sometimes as impediments to investigators and government officials.

Policies and practices surrounding privacy and security give rise to some of the greater debates of our times.  One would be hard pressed to find a single media outlet from around the world that does not have a top headline about a privacy and security issue.  While many other rights have been accepted as inviolable, there is a rich and diverse contest of principles over how our societies must negotiate the future of this most fragile right.  One of our objectives in this project in Asia was to promote an open discussion of this negotiation process: to identify the stakeholders, and when possible, fuel that negotiation, if not initiate it in the first place.