Privacy of Personal Information

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Introduction

        In this new era of the Internet, most people use the Internet to acquire information of one reason or another. But what may not be realized is the consideration of the First Amendment and its importance. These people are not aware that the Internet is collecting information about them without permission and may be sharing the information. Every time the Internet is used there might be a compromise of privacy of personal information. The information flows both ways. With every click of the mouse on a hyperlink, the use or search of a World Wide Web (WWW) address, or an addition to a mailing list, is an opportunity for personal information to be gathered. This raises the seriousness of privacy of our information on the Internet.

Ethical Issues of Internet Privacy

        "Case law handed down by the Supreme Court over the years established the right to privacy as a basic human right, under the Ninth Amendment." (Collier, 2007) When using the Internet to access social networking sites, various free email sites, or just to browse various websites because of unlimited amount of sites available. While using the Internet the user must understand that personal information is transmitted and this should concern the user to be aware of their privacy. When accessing an online shopping or auction site it requires purchases to be made with a credit card; email sites may share the user's email with other sites or even allow third parties to read the user's emails without the consent of the user. Is it fair that some sites track the visitors to the site and may even store the user's personal information? There should always be caution used when accessing the Internet.

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        The Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act was passed by the government in 1997. This bill states that the consumer has the right to any and all information that an Internet company has on the consumer. It also states that the company cannot sell the information that is has on the consumer without the consumer's written consent. This may seem as though it protects the consumer on the Internet but in actually the Internet company will not sale the consumer's information but instead gather it for future needs. Future needs? Those needs arise when an Internet company is going bankrupt or out of business and then the company will sell the consumer's information, credit card number, billing address, email, etc. to make a profit on the way out. This information is usually gathered from the consumer to make the consumer's buying experience quicker the next time because all the necessary information is already gathered and stored. Needless to say, the Consumer Internet Privacy Protection Act is not being enforced.

Role of the Internet and Privacy in the Workplace

        With the current state of unemployment, if bosses and or supervisors read all of their employee's emails the unemployment rate would be even higher. An employee should not expect complete privacy when using the company's e-mail system. "The great justification for monitoring workplace e-mail is that the employer owns the equipment, pays for the transmission lines and, in fact, remains the owner of all correspondence that travels on it." (Eagan, 2009, pg. A.8) Where there maybe some protection for employees that are covered by union contracts, there is not that advantage in the private sector. Employees must remember and have a constant vigil that electronic messages sent or received via the company's computers, either from within the company or outside of the company are subject to monitoring by the company. Even e-mails sent from a web-based email account like Hotmail, Yahoo, or Google are still subject to monitoring by the company due to the fact that the employee is using the company computer to transmit the messages. It should be good practice for employees to always consider the fact that all e-mails maybe viewed by the company.

        Lewis Maltby is the country's leading advocate for workplace rights and the president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. Maltby believes the workplace privacy is currently under siege. He asks, "What are the forces that have put us there?" Maltby gives the reasons that companies monitor employee's emails because bottom line, they can. The costs to monitor e-mail messages or place cameras in the workplace are minimal. Also, due to the rise in harassment in the workplace, employers want to limit if not avoid sexual harassment in the company. Employees must realize that they always have the right to freedom of speech but this right does not exist when they walk through the office door and are on company time.

Gathering personal information

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        By law, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lets consumers know how it collects consumer's personal information, how it is used, who it is shared with, and how the commission protects consumer's information. Since federal law limits the use of consumer's personal information, protecting the consumer's privacy and security is of the utmost of importance. In most instances, limited information is collected, such as name, address, telephone number, or email address.

        The FTC does collect and maintain the consumer's information when contacting the organization to enforce or administer the Federal Trade Commission Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and several other laws and regulations. When doing business with the FTC, the consumer will be required to give the taxpayer ID number or Social Security number. When accessing the site, temporary, anonymous information is collected. This information consists of the Internet protocol (IP) address from the consumer's computer, the date and time of the visit; the browser software and the operating system that was being used. The consumer has the rights under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act of 1974 to get the information the FTC may have.

Although privacy is really difficult to define - one person's opinion on privacy may differ from another, it generally "is a fundamental human right. It underpins human dignity and other values such as freedom of association and freedom of speech. It is the individual's right to be left alone or the desire by each of us for physical space where we can be free of interruption, intrusion, embarrassment, or accountability and the attempt to control the time and manner of disclosures of personal information about ourselves. (Privacy International, 2007)" Thus, Internet privacy is one of the concerns of today's wired/wireless environment. Taking the definition of privacy International, the primary issue really pertaining to Internet privacy is the "disclosures of personal information" especially to unscrupulous individuals and organizations.

Another corollary issue with Internet privacy is that personal or physical privacy maybe different from digital privacy. When surfing the Net, especially when people sign up from Internet Service Providers, email accounts, social networking sites, etc. personal information need to be provided otherwise the service will not be made available. This may be fine but the problem could lie on whether those providing the service will keep the personal information confidential. Further, the service providers may be ethical enough to keep the personal information confidential, but have they set up the proper security precautions to protect personal data? Since the Internet could still be considered as "the new kid on the block," there are times when how to handle or manage the technology falls on various - and sometimes opposing - strategies. In a report by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse on Internet Privacy (2008):

Laws concerning your privacy on the Internet are still being developed. The three branches of government view the Internet's potential and pitfalls differently. To date, the Supreme Court has taken a hands-off approach to regulating the Internet in favor of free speech. However, the federal government is increasingly interested in regulating the Internet, for example through child pornography and gambling laws. On the other hand, the White House appears to welcome the lack of restriction on data sharing and surveillance. One important thing to keep in mind when relying on the law to protect you is that if U.S. law is broken in another country, prosecuting the criminal may prove difficult or impossible.

Talk about being between "a rock and a hard place," Internet privacy is indeed a very contentious issue because of different perceptions and opinions. However, there have been several major movements, and legislations have been passed regarding protection of one's privacy on the Internet. For instance, the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA/18 USC § 2511) makes it unlawful under certain circumstances for someone to read or disclose the contents of an electronic communication.

        Aside from Internet privacy issues, securing the integrity and confidentiality of personal information provided on the World Wide Web, the Internet has become a depository for our most private thoughts and information. Details we would be reluctant to share with a doctor are routinely volunteered to Google, Yahoo and other search engines, and can easily be traced back to the computer it came from (Rushe, 2007). People even upload "very personal and compromising photos" on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook or Friendster. For the technologically savvy individual or hackers, capturing these information and photos would seem like a walk in the park. The younger generation is more prone to issues relating to invasion of their privacy because of their familiarity and "trust" on the Internet. Emily Nussbaum reported in the New York Magazine that: "As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited. (Nussbaum, 2008)" With cases presented, it is truly a major concern and individuals, organizations and the government most especially should and must do everything and anything to protect this modern wonder of technology lest we end up like the characters living in Aldous Huxley's 1932 novel Brave New World - they may live in Utopia but the price of which was the surrender of their free will and privacy!

Conclusion

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The term Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) are words that not only are familiar to people all over the globe but their technology is ubiquitous. Aside from the availability of the Internet, several spin-off technologies have been possible such as mobile Internet service via the mobile telephone, PDA or even "netbooks" - those subnotebooks that are small-sized, low-cost and lightweight optimized for mobile Internet access and core computing functions. No doubt, it is difficult to do day-to-day personal chores nor business transactions without relying on the power of the Internet. Personal communications between relatives, family and friends are made possible at the touch of a button, and can be done regularly via emails, chat or even web cameras. Business and industry are not left behind considering strategic, tactical and operational processes have been automated, which helped commerce streamline operations. Indeed, a whole way of life for today's generation has been changed because of the Internet.

On the other side of the coin though, the convenience, availability and ease of use provided by the Internet could be looked at as a double-edged sword - one side provides protection while the other could do harm. Thus, one of the harms attributed to the use of the Internet is the loss of privacy by anyone using it.

"In a world where literally everything you do can leave a digital fingerprint, nothing strikes a visceral chord among web users more than the issue of privacy. There is very little that one can do in complete anonymity when it comes to surfing the web. It is only a question of how willing various data collectors are in maintaining the privacy of users. The potential for abuse is enormous."

Users must continue to be vigilant in what information is given on the internet and know that not all sites are secure. Being vigilant will also protect the consumer from the negative effect of identity theft. Using credit monitoring alone will not protect the consumer from the fastest growing crime of identity theft.

        "IdentityTruth is the leading provider of a new breed of service to help consumers safeguard their Privacy and Identity." (IdentityTruth, 2009) IdentityTruth provides consumers with the advanced notice of potential identity theft before it becomes too costly to the consumer. IdentityTruth can also predict possible problems to alert the consumer early enough to prevent severe damage to the consumer's credit. The use of the World Wide Web is here to stay. Consumers must become aware of the services and software available to help protect their jobs, finances, and identity.

References

  • Collier, B. P. 2007,October. Privacy On The Internet.Practical Lawyer,53(5),17-22. Retrieved November 6, 2009, from Accounting & Tax Periodicals. (Document ID:1339575921).
  • Egan, K. 2009,October9. Is your e-mail private? The law isn't at all clear. The Windsor Star,A.8. Retrieved November 19, 2009, from Canadian Newsstand Complete. (Document ID:1877326551).
  • Privacy International. Overview of Privacy. 2007, December 17. Retrieved November 19, 2009. http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-559062.
  • Privacy Rights Clearinghouse/UCAN. Privacy and the Internet: Traveling in Cyberspace Safely. 2008, April. Retrieved November 19, 2009. http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs18-cyb.htm.
  • Rushe, D. 2007, December 16. "Fears Mount Over Internet Privacy." The Times Online. Retrieved November 20, 2009. http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/technology/article3055825.ece.
  • Nussbaum, E. "Say Everything." New York Magazine. 2008. Retrieved November 20, 2009. http://nymag.com/news/features/27341/.
  • Rappa, M. "Data Privacy." Managing the Digital Enterprise. 2008. Retrieved November 19, 2009. http://digitalenterprise.org/privacy/privacy.html IdentityTruth Identifies Risks with Popular Gifts for Holiday 2009.23 November. Business Wire, pg 2. Retrieved November 20, 2009, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID:1906450421).