Technologies have blurred the line between public and private thought and expression; courts across the globe are confounded by questions about how to characterize social media musings and blogs, how to think about data like location, IP addresses and cookies. Today, more than ever, privacy and free expression are interlinked; an infringement upon one can be both the cause and consequence of an infringement upon the other.
There is a tension between the right to freedom of expression – in particular the media’s exercise of the right – and the right to privacy. Freedom of expression, whether exercised by individuals or by the media, and the ability to exercise it, is an essential feature of any open, liberal and democratic society. It is only through exercising free expression that societies can sustain real democratic accountability. However the right to freedom of expression is not unlimited and it can be qualified to protect the rights and freedoms of others. It is a delicate balance to decide where the boundary between free expression and privacy lies but one the courts are used to negotiating
Internet is a global network of computer hosts, telecommunication paths and gateways linking those hosts. It challenges the right to freedom of expression. On the one hand, Internet empowers freedom of expression by providing individuals with new means of expressions, on the other hand, the free flow of information has raised the call for content regulation, not least to restrict minors’ access to potentially harmful information.
In the modern world, almost every act online is an act of expression. Participating in an online chat, networking with friends and colleagues, and surfing websites and reading news, downloading files — these are all acts of imparting or accessing information. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, which draws on values of personal autonomy and democracy. It is closely connected to freedom of thought and is a precondition for individuals’ self-expression and self-fulfillment. The European Court (the Court) has described freedom of expression as one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man (Handyside 1976:23).
On the other side the right to privacy is not definitively elaborated and continues to be debated. However, conceived as an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, it can both facilitate and constrain other rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, association and belief.Violations of privacy for the purposes of tabloid journalism, however, are generally regarded as abuses of privacy rather than legitimate claims to freedom of expression.
In 1996, the European Commission noted: “A unique characteristic of the Internet is that it functions simultaneously as a medium for publishing and for communication. Unlike in the case of traditional media, the Internet supports a variety of communication modes: one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many. An Internet user may “speak” or “listen” interchangeably. At any given time, a receiver can and does become content provider, of his own accord, or through “re-posting” of content by a third party. The Internet therefore is radically different from traditional broadcasting. It also differs radically from a traditional telecommunication service” (COM 96, 487:7).
The rise of the Internet and “big data” in the last decades has presented new opportunities, but also new threats to both privacy and freedom of expression. In practice a balance between these rights is needed.
If it is true that with the rapid dissemination of content on the Web seems absurd to block sites that publish copyrighted material, especially when they are platforms such as YouTube, where thousands of users upload videos at the same time 24 hours 24, it is equally true that the authors must somehow be protected. For this reason it is seeking a “third way,” as also said the EU Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding, speaking at the Digital Life Design in Germany at the beginning of 2012, adding that “freedom of information and copyright does not have to be enemies, but partners. “The recent arrest of “Kim Dotcom,” the founder of Megaupload, the file sharing site which over the years had become a Pandora’s box of pirated movies and TV series, is the demonstration that the laws, if applied, are sufficient to combat piracy wild , without reaching excessive measures.