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Privacy and Surveillance

Privacyand Surveillance

Privacyand Surveillance

Privacyhas been one of the most crucial phenomena in the contemporary humansociety. It has, unfortunately, remained one of the most abstractterms with no definitive definition. Nevertheless, privacy may bedefined as the capacity of an individual or an entity to secludeitself or information pertaining to it, thereby allowing forselective expression. Of course, there are variations in the contentand boundaries on the things that are seen as private among differentpeople and cultures. In a wide range of instances, privacy makes useof the theory of natural rights. In fact, it is yet to receive itsplace as a distinctive right. However, some scholar shave underlinedthe fact that the right to privacy is, by all means, an autonomousright that should be accorded a legal protection in itself. Thistriggered the concocting of a fitting definition for the “right toprivacy”. “Right to privacy” underlines an individual’s rightto sustain a domain around himself, including every other thing thatis part of him including home, property, body, feelings, thoughts,identity and secrets. It refers to the subjective conditionexperienced by individuals in instances where they have the capacityto control information pertaining to themselves and in instanceswhere they use that power in a manner that is consistent with theirvalues and interests. This right accords an individual the capacityto select the parts in the domain that may be accessed by otherpeople, as well as regulate the manner, timing and extent by whichthe parts that he chooses to disclose are used.

Thereare varied categories or groups of private information. Based onprivacy’s juridical definition, there are two crucial aspects thatare relevant to information profession. First, there is a closerelationship between privacy (as a concept) and information. Adefinition of privacy underlines the fact that it encompasses theentirely of information and facts that are applicable to anindividual in a state of isolation. Scholars have noted that the factthat this phenomenon is expressed based on information means thatthere is a high possibility for differentiating the varied categoriesof privacy including personal information, private communication,information relating to a person’s body’s privacy, as well asinformation regarding an individual’s possessions (Caruana &ampCannataci, 2007, pp 34). These are, essentially, the variedcategories of privacy.

Privacyof an individual’s body, underlines medical information, whichusually enjoys a distinctive legal protection. An individual isentitled to information pertaining to the nature of illness fromwhich he is suffering, as well as its implications. Similarly, theindividual is entitled to privacy regarding the nature of the illnessand would never be forced to disclose it to other people. This isonly except in instances where the health and lives of other peopleis in explicit danger from the specific illness, as may be the casefor HIV positive individual where there are chances that otherindividuals may get the virus (Caruana &amp Cannataci, 2007, pp.40).

Privatecommunications, on the other hand, revolve around all categories ofpersonal information that an individual wishes to keep undisclosedand private. An example may be the information that is exchanged inthe course of a reference interview between an informationprofessional and the user.

Personalinformation underlines the categories of information that relate onlyto that specific individual. It may, for instance, includebibliographic information such as name and address, or even financialinformation, and is relevant to every other group of informationprofessionals.

Informationpertaining to an individual’s possession is closely linked toproperty right. Every individual has control over the informationrelating to personal possessions in various cases.

Threatsto Privacy

Unfortunately,the abstractness of definitions of varied aspects pertaining toprivacy has not been the only thing that has threatened it. This isespecially in the advent of technological innovation that is theinternet, which has allowed for the opening up of varied aspects thatwould previously have been considered private.

Technologyas a threat to privacy

Theadvent of the internet is seen as a groundbreaking invention in thecontemporary human society. Indeed, the internet has allowed for theenhanced inter-connectedness of varied aspects of individual’s lifeand allowed people to carry out business and communication in almostany part of the globe. In the context of this discussion, technologyis viewed as the gathering, organization, storage, as well asdistribution of information in different format usingtelecommunication techniques and computers on the basis ofmicro-electronics.

Asmuch as technology comes with a fundamental effect on the gathering,storage and retrieval, as well as dissemination of information, thebone of contention revolves around the inaccessibility oraccessibility and manipulation of information. Indeed, it makes itpossible for enhanced and even simultaneous access to information(Kizza,2002,pp. 37). This means that it is easier for a larger number of peopleto gain access to the private information of an individual.Similarly, individuals may be excluded from accessing necessaryinformation stored in electronic format through varied securitymeasures including passwords and encryption of data. Informationmanipulation of data using technology underlines the integration ofinformation, repackaging and the likely alteration of informationusing electronic means.

Thereare varied ways in which technology has become a threat toindividual’s privacy.

First,technology has allowed for the monitoring of individuals in theirworkplaces through electronic means. This is usually done using theso-called electronic eyes, with the use of such technology beingjustified as aimed at enhancing productivity. However, scholar shaveunderlined the ethical implications of the use of such technologies.Indeed, it is well noted that such monitoring may result in increasedfear, as well as the so-called panopticon phenomenon.

Similarly,technology has allowed for the merging of databases incorporatingpersonal information, an activity that is referred to asdata-banking. This underlines the integration or merging of personalinformation from varied databases into a single database. Ofparticular note is the fact that the problem does not revolve aroundthe integration of this information, rather the key issue is the factthat the individuals are not even aware that their personalinformation has been gathered or is being merged into a centraldatabase (Caruana &amp Cannataci, 2007, pp. 49). On the same note,the individual is unlikely to know the purpose for effecting theintegration, the accuracy of such information or even the individualsor entities that would benefit from such integration.

Further,technology has allowed for the interception, as well as reading ofmessages (emails and other forms of communication). Indeed, there isalways a technical possibility for the interception of emailmessages, as well as the reading of the same by unauthorizedindividuals or entities. In most cases, companies justify thisbehavior by floating the notion that the technology infrastructure(emails and the internet) are resources that belong to the companyrather than the individual (Kizza,2002,pp. 49). They may justify the interception of messages on the basisof the need to maximize the utilization of their resources bydetermining whether individuals use the resources to carry out thebusiness tasks or for private activities. For instance, Google scansthe things that an individual writes in Gmail so as to providemarketers an opportunity to promote their goods on the basis of themessages. Similarly, online news sites secretly auction personal datawhen an individual visits them prior to the loading of the page,while social site Facebook enables marketers to convert personalstatus updates to adverts for their items (Angwin, 2014).

Connectedclosely to the integration of files may be the increased utilizationof buying cards by a large number of retail stores. Thefrequent-shopper cards incorporate a computer chip that collects andrecord information pertaining to every item that is purchasedalongside varied aspects of the buyer (Henderson,2006,pp. 32). Such cards are usually marketed as aimed at enhancingcustomer loyalty through rewarding them with shopping points that canbe redeemed for other items in the retail stores. Nevertheless, theinformation derived from these cards allows the marketing companiesto carry out targeted marketing to certain individuals as they arewell aware of the buying habits of the individuals alongside otherpersonal information that may underline personal preferences.

Lastly,technological threat to privacy may be in the form of crackers andhackers. Hacking may refer to the actions that are taken byindividuals or entities so as to gain unauthorized access tocomputers and, consequently, the information therein (Solove,2004,44). Hackers are, essentially, individuals who seek and takeadvantage of a computer network or computer system with the motive ofchallenging, protesting or even profiting from the action. Recentresearch has shown that hackers do not simply sell the data derivedfrom such activities rather they also sell the fact that theindividual or entity has vulnerabilities to other entities includingindustrial spies, terrorists or even other hackers. Hacking may havedetrimental on victims especially in cases of businesses (Kizza,2002,pp. 54). For instance, it may result in the loss of reputation, trustand confidence of the customers, which would consequently harm therevenues, profitability and brand equity. Profits and revenues mayalso be negatively impacted as a result of falsified transactions,not to mention the costs incurred in the repair of the damage done,as well as the building of contingency plans for safeguarding orsecuring the compromised web applications and websites.

Economic,Political and Cultural threats to Privacy

Privacyrights have been seen as crucial restriction on any government’smonopoly power. However, high tax organizations and governments havebeen pushing for the enactment of international agreements thateliminate the restrictions of government power while compromisingpersonal freedom and prosperity. Financial privacy revolves aroundthe capacity of an individual to keep private and confidentialdetails pertaining to his or her income, wealth, investment andexpenditures.

Variedlegislations have been made and eroded the privacy of individualsespecially with regard to their financial information. Researchersnote that until 1913, the United States government was notconstitutionally authorized to invade individual financial privacy.However, courts have, since 1963 been increasingly placingrestrictions on the privacy claims and even allowed for enactment oflaws that require banks and other financial institutions to offerpersonal information to the government (Klosek,2000,pp. 59). For instance, a decision by the Supreme Court in 1976 statedthat bank customers are not legally entitled to privacy with regardto personal information held by financial institutions. This decisionwas based on the notion that bank records are the property of banksrather than of individuals, in which case an individual waives theright to privacy when he or she voluntarily does business with afinancial institution. Congress responded to the diminution ofprivacy rights by passing the Right to Financial Privacy Act in 1978.This law was aimed at safeguarding the confidentiality and privacy ofpersonal financial records through the creation of a statutorysafeguard for bank records (Klosek,2000,pp. 76). This legislation stated that no government authority shouldaccess or obtain copies of information incorporated in any financialinstitution’s customers’ financial records unless there is areasonable description of the same. Similarly, it required thatcustomers authorize access or there exists an appropriate summons orsubpoena, written requests from authorized government entity or aqualified search warrant (Gutwirth,2002,pp. 34). As much as this legislation came as an effective safeguardto privacy, it is limited with regard to the short list ofcircumstances in which procedures are required prior to the supply ofpersonal data to the government. Scholars have noted that there hasbeen a significant weakening of protections of the legislation sinceits passing (Klosek,2000,pp. 89). For instance, the 1980s saw the amendment of the act toenable law enforcement agencies to delay the moment at which an ownerof a bank account has to be notified that his accounts and recordshave been taken up in investigations pertaining to espionage.

Onthe same note, there have been concerns regarding tax competitionamong countries. Efforts to squash tax competition among nationstriggered the launching of the “harmful tax competition”initiative in 1998, which was designed in an effort to put pressureon low-tax countries like Luxembourg and Switzerland to reduce thestrength of their tax laws. Large information-sharing systems amonggovernments have also been implemented in the European Union throughthe launch of the Savings Tax Directive with the sole aim ofweakening privacy. Of course, such efforts are presented asinitiatives aimed at combating money laundering.

Oneof the most surprising developments in the contemporary human societyhas been the association of terrorism with money laundering. TheUnited States government and the European Union have used theemerging terrorist threats as an excuse to infringe on the privacy ofindividuals in the pretext of stopping money laundering. The EuropeanParliament, for instance, passed a resolution that called for aunited action that would impose sufficient controls on internationalfinancial markets and abolish secrecy havens and offshore tax andbanking so as to effectively counter money laundering (Solove,2004,pp. 50). Similarly, European finance ministers expressed their desireto adopt UN resolutions that would sanction financial centers that donot comply with information-exchange and transparency guidelines. Asmuch as OECD and EU have argued that laws pertaining to bank secrecyhinder law enforcement and result in money laundering, it is wellnoted that there exists little evidence supporting the notion that awholesale assault on financial privacy would assist law enforcement.Indeed, there exists considerable evidence showing that complex andlarge information systems divert law enforcement from focusing onentities and individuals that have a high likelihood of engaging incriminal activity.

CulturalNorms and Privacy

Scholarshave underlined the fact that cultural factors that are distinctiveto a particular country affect the attitudes of people towardsprivacy and the conception of privacy. Indeed, people are socializedinto distinctive norms pertaining to privacy in their culture, withthe norms beings fundamental to the manner in which they conceiveprivacy. Research has shown that there are variations on the thingsthat individuals in different communities or cultures would consideras private. For instance, Indians are less confidential aboutinformation such as mobile phone numbers, health information or evenreligion than their western counterparts. Further, Indians show hightrust levels in government organizations and businesses that gatherpersonal information (Al-Hamar et al, 2010, pp. 49). On the samenote, individuals within the same cultural group would have differentperceptions pertaining to privacy. This is especially consideringindividual exposure to technologies such as the internet. Scholarshave noted that Americans have evolved sharply with regard to theirconcerns away from issues pertaining to the transfer and storage ofpersonal information.

Withthe growth and spread of globalization, there has been an immensereduction in the concerns pertaining to privacy. Globalization hasallowed for the mixture and blending of concerns pertaining toprivacy with things that would have been previously considered asprivate being seen as normal and being exposed openly even inconservative societies. For a large number of researchers, the NorthKorean society, for example, is seen as extremely secretive withregard to certain matters (Al-Hamar et al, 2010, pp. 59). However,this secrecy and sense of privacy is often watered down and eveneliminated once they interact with people from other parts of theglobe, usually, outside their own country. This may be the directresult of globalization and increased integration and blending ofcultural values, which has allowed for the re-shaping of opinions andperspectives pertaining to privacy.


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Al-Hamar,M., Dawson, R &amp Guan, L (2010). A culture of trust threatenssecurity and privacy in Qatar. In Proc. CIT

Angwin,J (2014). Has Privacy Become a Luxury good? The New York Times, webretrieved fromhttp://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/04/opinion/has-privacy-become-a-luxury-good.html?_r=0

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