Frank La Rue:  It Isn’t Ethical to Sell Information

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Frank LaRue Assitant Director General for Communication and Information was encourage The Youth News Room about becoming a great Journalist. (Ben Latuihamallo / Voice of Millennials)

Is privacy related to freedom of expression?

Human rights don’t solely about freedom of expression. Privacy is another important issue to be addressed. In the term of human rights, privacy and freedom expression go hand in hand. Without the guarantee of privacy, you won’t be able to guarantee freedom of expression either.

In the case of journalists, this issue is particularly crucial.  For instance, journalists must have their own privacy so they can have their own independent investigations, can produce good investigative reports, and most importantly can protect the sources. It is journalism’s obligation to protect the sources, the same way when the doctors have the right to protect confidentiality of their patients’ information.

So I think here is a fundamental issue. Privacy in a way is being threaten in the world by illegal monitoring by different state agencies and private enterprises who sell the information out. And I think this is a very bad trend.

Privacy in a way is being threaten in the world by illegal monitoring

Is social media a private place?

Well in the case of social media, especially in the case I was mentioning where there is a tremendous degree of the collection of information because they ask every subscriber to give all their information, and they monitor also your communication activities and they say that whatever you upload in their platforms belong to them eventually.

So with that they accumulate and they can actually keep a tremendous degree of information that they classify, they use to make profile, for commercial reasons, but they also sell it to governments and to anyone who can pay for these information.

For me, personal information should never be sold.

Is that ethical?

I think it is not. For me, personal information should never be sold. If you’re using a service, the same way that you, again for example if you go to a doctor you’d expect the doctor to keep this private, if you use a network platform, an internet platform, you would expect this platform to keep this information in confidentiality, not to go around selling it.

Of course, what they argue is that they inform their users that they will keep this information, but they do it in very fine print in this long long contract that no one ever read when you actually subscribe to. Of course, the fact that we all need these services eventually, today you cannot survive in modern world without internet service.

So in a way we’re kind of forced, almost, to use the service, to put our information there under the knowledge that it will be sold.


Frank La Rue is UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General Communication and Information. La Rue has promoted human rights for over 25 years and was the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of expression and opinion at the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. He is the co-founder of the Center for Legal Action for Human Rights (CALDH) and has worked as a journalist as well as frequently written and taught about human rights.

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