The infringement of the right to privacy in communications is a sore point for the U.S., which has been caught illegally tapping its citizens in its fight against terrorism. Now the majority party in the U.S. is ready to sacrifice this fundamental right to privacy to defeat another domestic enemy, those opposed to the COVID-19 vaccine.
The first phase of vaccinations in the U.S. took place at an outstanding pace; it was the envy of the rest of the world with the exception only of Israel, Malta and the United Arab Emirates. Lockdowns were canceled fairly quickly thanks to the rapid deployment of infrastructure, partly due to Donald Trump, partly due to Joe Biden, and partly due to a clear motivation among the population, which decided the sooner it got vaccinated, the sooner it could return to normal.
Over time, however, the vaccination rate has fallen dramatically, as 50% of the population has yet to be vaccinated, leaving the U.S. short of the expected rate of 70% that had been set for early July and which is needed to achieve herd immunity.
The authorities began to look for the culprits, for the enemies, and quickly found them. They turned out to be conservative voters who support the Republican Party. The grounds for placing the blame here, we must admit, are plausible.
One of the most common reasons why people refuse to take vaccines in the United States is religious prejudice. Residents of the 10 states where Trump won the election by a wide margin are the least willing to get vaccinated.
Finally, it is Republicans who control the state legislatures who are trying to block Joe Biden’s Door-to-Door COVID-19 Vaccine Campaign. The volunteer project depends on volunteers and and party activists who go door to door and discuss the need for vaccinations. Conservatives view this as an invasion of privacy, and a Democratic campaign tactic.
The response to this interference by Democrats resulted in a media frenzy and a new initiative that, in fact, eliminated a basic international human right to privacy in communications.
This right is spelled out in Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948.*
The gist of the latest Door-to-Door initiative is to allow software to monitor information about vaccination and mark it as false or even malicious if it is transmitted by SMS and direct messages, according to Politico. If, for example, your mother writes that there is no place to get vaccinated in her town, she is immediately provided with the address of the nearest vaccine distribution center.
Another example described by American media involves the case of a preacher who discourages his congregation from getting vaccinated. His information is refuted as contrary to the findings of scientists and the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This Door-to-Door campaign could soon become public policy, and, at the very least, the Biden administration will have to go to great lengths to distance itself from this intraparty initiative that has a significant number of supporters.
Apparently, the idea was picked up on social networks, primarily Facebook and Twitter, which began identifying inaccurate information about COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. This quickly turned into targeted trolling of Donald Trump. Nearly every other message from the president was marked as unreliable until his accounts were frozen for good.
However, a blog is not the same thing as private communications, which have been protected since the Middle Ages, when violating this right was punishable with such penalties as cutting out one’s tongue. In those days, the right to privacy in one’s communications only applied to the privileged classes, but was recognized by the western world over time to the point where it could only be restricted by a court of law or during a time of war.
The right to privacy of communication is almost identical for both Russia and the United States. In the Constitution of the Russian Federation, for example, Article 23, part 2 reads:
“Everyone has the right to privacy in correspondence, telephone conversations, postal, telegraph, and other communications. Restriction of this right is permitted only on the basis of a court decision.”
The Democratic Party believes that in the face of a pandemic, this once natural and inalienable right can be sacrificed.
It is difficult to argue with the fact that an epidemic is an extraordinary situation. It is often compared to war, precisely to draw analogies with laws enacted during times of war, when the right to privacy in communication is revoked along with many other rights. The western world has faced far worse restrictions this year, including being prohibited from meeting in groups larger than three people, even for family holidays.
But people suspect that if freedoms inevitably return after the pandemic is defeated, which is what vaccination is meant to do, then other rights may be treated very differently with greater exceptions when it comes to questions of politics or even ideology.
The history of social networks clearly shows the kind of restrictions that sooner or later will be considered natural and absolutely necessary. These include homophobic and transphobic statements, expressions of racism and sexism, denial of the need to fight global warming, voting for unacceptable candidates, and so on.
A system capable of censoring what is said is also capable of identifying the speaker and imposing the punishment deemed appropriate for the time.
It doesn’t matter exactly how the system does it, with artificial intelligence that analyzes words and phrases, or with specially hired human beings, the proletariat of the modern age. The global censorship industry is a promising option for those who will be left jobless by robots in other fields.
It’s important that the system is capable of making corrections in principle, being used for once to advance the obviously good cause of promoting vaccination in the face of a global pandemic.
The Democratic Party initiative is yet another test of the rule of law as it applies in the West. Either it will hold – and initiatives of this kind will be trial balloons that never get off the ground – or the right of privacy in communication will be scrapped along with the right to freedom of speech, the denial of which has already become a kind of credo for those who bear progressive values, the dangerously numerous and influential wing of the majority party in the United States.
*Editor’s note: Article 12 provides: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”