Privacy on the Internet is more important to us than ever now that all of our photographs, phone numbers and the location of our every single move are all recorded and shared by many web services.
Privacy is not considered as a fundamental right in Oman for which each individual has an entitlement to, unlike the freedom of expression, the freedom to practice religion, and many of the other freedoms provided for in the Basic Statute of the State.
There are a few instances where a limited right of privacy is protected by the Omani law such as the guarantee to maintain the confidentiality of communications, the protection of the sanctity of family life from violation by technological means such as camera equipped mobile phones, and the protection against misuse of personal data by institutions regulated by the electronic transactions law.
These limited instances of the protection of privacy are not a substitute for the protection of privacy as a wider concept, which can be violated through electronic and traditional means and without necessarily disclosing that information to the public.
Private information is now extremely valuable to companies as their knowledge of our habits and personal details can help them target potential consumers. Many companies now try to collect as much personal information about us as they can, and this puts us at a risk when they collect this information without our knowledge or when they do not handle this information with care while dealing with extremely sensitive information about us such as our health and medical conditions, family life, and business transactions.
Attempting to draw a clear scope for the right of privacy is not as easy as it sounds due to the fact that this right needs to be balanced against the security interests of the state in acquiring information in order to avert crimes. These interests are legitimate, but they are not always applied reasonably. For example, the telecommunication law in Oman prohibits the use of any encryption method without acquiring the prior permission of the minister for that use. This provision is unrealistic and has no practical value because we use encryption on the Internet to do many simple daily tasks such as checking our online banking account, paying our bills, and even sending messages using Gmail.
There are some legislative issues in the area of privacy in Oman, but there is little that local legislation here can do to mitigate the risks of the violation of privacy on the Internet due to the fact that the majority of web businesses do not have any presence in Oman and therefore will not be bound by the laws of this country.
We as individuals must take precaution when giving out our information on the Internet. We need to familiarise ourselves with the privacy aspects of the services that we use and must be aware of how much information we are sharing because it is impossible to retract information we share publicly once it gets on the Internet.