A resolution of the Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP, in Spanish) was recently disseminated throughout media outlets. It requires that every cow have a chip inside its body, which, thanks to a monitoring system, will enable the movement of cattle throughout the country to be controlled. Last week when I wrote the article, “El Greco, copyright and access to culture,” I felt obligated to clarify that I am not an art critic. Today, as I write this note, I think I should also clarify that I am not an expert on taxes, or on agriculture and livestock. It’s just that, upon reading the policy that AFIP proposes implementing, I thought about the poor little cows in our country that will no longer be able to hide themselves from the State; it seems that the moment to defend their privacy has arrived! Dear readers, this piece begins in all seriousness starting now:
I do not want to discuss here the possibility that animals are subjects of fundamental rights (in this case, if cows do have privacy). Rather, I want to call attention to how easy it is, in the current technological context, to implement monitoring mechanisms that, in fact, can affect the human right to privacy of all of us. Today we put the chip in cows – or in dogs, for example, as in Spain – but nothing would impede the obligatory installation of such a chip in our own bodies. Science fiction? I don’t think so. But as I will say later on, this is not the only way of affecting our right to privacy.
The same week that the AFIP in Argentina released its resolution about the cows, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations published the study, “The Right to Privacy in the Digital Age.” For me it was honestly much more interesting to read this document than the AFIP’s and I recommend it for those who are interested in studying the – positive or negative – impact of technology on the exercise of rights. The United Nations report reads, “Declining costs of technology and data storage have eradicated financial or practical disincentives to conducting surveillance. The State now has a greater capability to conduct simultaneous, invasive, targeted and broad-scale surveillance than ever before. In other words, the technological platforms upon which global political, economic and social life are increasingly reliant are not only vulnerable to mass surveillance, they may actually facilitate it.”
This report becomes even more interesting when it references the role of private companies as possible agents that contribute to affecting human rights. And I fully share the position that the High Commissioner adopts when it sustains that, “Where enterprises are faced with government demands for access to data that do not comply with international human rights standards, they are expected to seek to honour the principles of human rights to the greatest extent possible, and to be able to demonstrate their ongoing efforts to do so. This can mean interpreting government demands as narrowly as possible, seeking clarification from a Government with regard to the scope and legal foundation for the demand, requiring a court order before meeting government requests for data, and communicating transparently with users about risks and compliance with government demands.” In other words, I think that big multinational companies should assume responsibility for confronting authoritarian states that, under local or local regulations that claim to be legal, clearly infringe on international human rights.