COVID-19, privacy zealots and the abuse of “might” in Italy

I sound like a broken record that nobody listens to when I say that in a moment of constitutional rights – the real ones – withholding “privacy” is the least of our concerns.

Nevertheless, many supporters of an extreme concept of “privacy” continue to oppose the general and generalized identification of infected people and people who have come into contact with us because the state “could abuse” it.

They are willing to issue a death verdict against an indefinite number of people (violating their right to life), forcing the survivors to live in a regime of self-detention (limiting their freedom of movement) and living in hardship because they are no longer able to support themselves (cancelling the right to work) or to do business (cancelling the freedom to carry out the economic activity).

All, in the name of a non demonstrated probability: “they could abuse”.

Apart from the unscrupulous “defenders of privacy” for whom “defending fundamental rights” is only a way of obtaining visibility, assignments and financial gain, those in good faith who remain (besides, I cannot say how many, though), should first ask themselves:

  • which are the States that could ‘abuse’ the data collected to limit contagion and seek a cure? Please name it, because if it is true that all cats are black at night, this does not exempt us from lighting the torch of reason and knowledge. Italy is not China, it is not a police state, and it never becomes one. Using the conditional – “might” – is an act of mistrust not only in our institutions but a confession of our individual failure because it means not having done enough to contribute to the growth of the culture of democracy,
  • how could the Italian Republic – not “the States” – “abuse” these data? By giving them to researchers to understand how the virus spreads and how quickly?
  • Is the difference between ‘measures’ by the police state and ‘police state’ properly understood? It is a non-trivial difference, which Italy has already experienced in the Seventies, with internal terrorism spreading around the Country and which has resulted in the adoption of special laws (police state measures) that have not turned Italy into a police state.

Clearly, I am not proposing an approach of blind Hegelian fideism based on absolute trust in the infallible State that “knows what is right”.

On the contrary, especially in times of exceptional measures what counts is the direct and collective commitment to the exercise of citizenship rights and therefore, the duties of control over institutional activities. In other words: we must be the “controller of the controlling parties”.

Such a choice, however, means – indeed, it would mean – constant commitment, public exposure and a sense of belonging to the democratic system or, in other words, bearing personally the task of contributing to the protection of fundamental rights. But when faced with such an option, the answers are always the same: Why should I do it? Why me? The problem is elsewhere: it is the State that “could abuse”, that is the problem!

Yeah, it’s the State that “could abuse”. That’s the problem.

Using the conditional on demonstrating a thesis without providing verifiable elements on the probability that something might happen is intellectually questionable and methodologically incorrect because it allows inventing a problem without having to worry about whether we are talking about political fantasy or real issues.

Therefore, in the name of an unnamed “precautionary principle”, apocalyptic and dystopian scenarios are drawn at individual convenience where “States” “know everything about us” that fuels a personal paranoid chase to show off Signal or Telegram accounts, to advocate “cryptographic applications” and to do (in)civil disobedience against methods that save – and I use the indicative, not the conditional – human lives.

Or, moreover,  to demonstrate that it is necessary to “balance data collection with privacy”. And why “with privacy” and not with the right to life? Or with the right to work? Or with the right to freedom? Who said that “privacy” – a non-right imported from a legal tradition that does not belong to us and that does not shine through “complexity of thought” – prevails over authentic, positive and constitutionalized rights?

Think about it, you “privacy defenders”, the next time you deal with these matters and you want to use the conditional instead of the present indicative.

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