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Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to keep their lives and personal affairs out of public view, or to control the flow of information about themselves. Privacy is sometimes related to anonymity although it is often most highly valued by people who are publicly known. Privacy can be seen as an aspect of security—one in which trade-offs between the interests of one group and another can become particularly clear.
The right against unsanctioned invasion of privacy by the government, corporations or individuals is part of many countries' laws, and in some cases, constitutions or privacy laws. Almost all countries have laws which in some way limit privacy, for example taxation normally requires passing on information about earnings. In some countries individual privacy may conflict with freedom of speech laws and some laws may require public disclosure of information which would be considered private in other countries and cultures.
Privacy may be voluntarily sacrificed, normally in exchange for perceived benefits, but often with little benefit and very often with specific dangers and losses. An example of voluntary sacrifice is entering a competition; a person gives personal details (often for advertising purposes), so they have a chance of winning a prize. Another example is where information voluntarily shared is later stolen or misused such as in identity theft.
Privacy and security trade offs
Privacy is one of the areas of security with trade-offs. For the collection of taxes it is in the interests of government if one's earnings and income are well known. On the other hand, that same information may be used to select someone or his family as a good target for kidnapping. In these narrow terms, one group's interest is to keep the information private whilst the other group's interest is to obtain that information. In most countries this risk is reduced, but not eliminated, by limiting the number of people with access to taxation information. On the other hand, in some countries, such as Finland, such information is directly accessible to anyone who wishes it. Privacy can also have free speech ramifications. In some countries privacy has been used as a tool to suppress free speech. Free speech and privacy is another area with trade-offs. In various cases the US Supreme Court has ruled that the first amendment trumps privacy. In Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001) Docket Number: 99-1687, US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that someone cannot be held liable in court for publishing or broadcasting intercepted contents of telephone calls or other electronic communications. The protection extends even when the publisher or broadcaster knows that someone else illegally intercepted the communication to obtain the information, as long as that information is of public concern.
Census data is another area where such trade-offs become apparent. Accurate data is useful for planning future services (whether commercial or public sector), on the other hand, almost all censuses are released only in a way which does not allow identification of specific individuals. Often this is done by randomly altering the data and directly reducing accuracy.
On the other hand sometimes false trade-offs are made. Identity card systems which clearly reduce privacy, are often sold as a method of increasing security. Security experts such as Bruce Schneier have argued, however, that these systems in fact reduce security and are a form of "security theatre".
Reasons for maintaining privacy
It has been reasoned that privacy encourages information sharing between individuals, because it creates an environment in which any perpetuated information that does not reference a source can be identified as rumor. If information is shared voluntarily, then facts can generally be approved by references to one or several identified sources, and there are fewer chances for the perpetuation of mistrust. The reasoning behind this is that the intention of a privacy violation does not matter for its effect to perpetuate the environment of rumors that is the root cause of intolerance. Philosophers often ask how people can chose to trust each other if they cannot hide from each other.
One may also wish to maintain privacy by withholding information from others because of stigma (as in the case of some "closeted" homosexuals), or for protection from the law (as when criminals hide information to prevent others from catching them). Privacy may include preserving modesty and preventing embarrassment by keeping others away while naked, using a toilet, or having sex.
Often, information (such as bank account numbers or, in the USA, the Social Security Number) may be used against the owner of the information, for example to commit fraud. By maintaining privacy, information owners hope to avoid this fraud or limit effects from it.
Reasons for not maintaining privacy
It has been reasoned that privacy discourages information sharing between individuals which in turn can lead to mistrust and intolerance amongst people and perpetuate false information. If information can be shared widely then facts can generally be verified through many different sources and there are less chances of inaccuracies. It has also been reasoned that Privacy can perpetuate stigma and intolerance. The reasoning behind this is that restrictions on information about people can inhibit and discourage collection and finding of data that is required for an accurate analysis and discussion on the causes and root of the stigma and intolerance. Philosophers often ask how people can learn to accept each other if they cannot know about each other. Issues have also been raised that privacy can encourage criminal activity as it makes it easier for criminals to hide their unlawful activities.
More pragmatically, privacy sometimes is not maintained because there is a benefit provided by disclosure. For example, a potential employer is given a resume/CV in order to evaluate someone's appropriateness for employment. Or, contact information, e-mail addresses most often, are provided in exchange for access to some useful information, like a "white paper".
List of some court cases in the United States that reviewed the issue of privacy:
In a unanimous ruling justices at the Supreme Court of New Hampshire ruled: "A generalized concern for personal privacy is insufficient to meet the state's burden of demonstrating the existence of a sufficiently compelling reason to prevent public access." The state Supreme Court ruled that financial information people disclose in divorce cases is not entitled to sweeping privacy protections. The court said the right of access to court proceedings and records predates both the state and federal constitutions. The decision relied heavily on the New Hampshire Constitution, which says power comes from the people. "To that end, the public's right of access to governmental proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted," the Constitution says. The Associated Press v. New Hampshire.
In Davis v. Freedom of Information Commission, 259 Conn. 45 (2001) The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the DPPA does not apply to other government agencies who receive personal information from the State DMV in the course of their normal government functions. Therefore, records compiled by the office of the tax accessor, which were based on state motor vehicle records, were publicly accessible.
Excerpt of a ruling by Judge Kenneth Johnson, Indianapolis, Indiana, "The great public interest in the reporting, investigation and prosecution of child abuse trumps even the patient's interest in privileged communication with her physicians because, in the end, both the patient and the state are benefited by the disclosure," Johnson wrote.
In Las Vegas Review v. Board of County Commissioners, August 18, 2000., Nevada's highest court ruled that Records showing the telephone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls on publicly owned cellular telephones are not confidential or private.
In Erwin Eastmond v. Canadian Pacific Railway & Privacy Commissioner of Canada (June 11, 2004) The Court found that CP could collect Eastmond's personal information without his knowledge or consent because it benefited from the exemption in paragraph 7(1)(b) of PIPEDA, which provides that personal information can be collected without consent if "it is reasonable to expect that the collection with the knowledge or consent of the individual would compromise the availability or the accuracy of the information and the collection is reasonable for purposes related to investigating a breach of an agreement.
Types of privacy
- Main article: Political privacy
People may wish to keep their political viewpoints secret for a variety of reasons - political groupings may be able to commit violence either when successful (using the powers of the state) or when defeated (using their own militias for example). This may be used to punish those who disagree with them. Many people have been tortured or killed for their political views by, for example, dictators, terrorist groups, and often forces linked to democratically elected politicians.
The secret ballot, which is common in democratic elections worldwide, is designed to maintain political privacy to limit any discrimination against people voting according to their political views. Such discrimination does not always target minorities and losers of the election: in many cases, influential minorities (e.g. a group of businessmen) might possibily force the majority (the employees) to vote according to their needs, if the vote were open.
Outing of individuals can be done for several political reasons; either as a negative campaigning tactic designed to lower the outed person's reputation, or by others of a similar sexual orientation who seek openness over privacy.
- Main article: Medical privacy
Information concerning a person's health is kept confidential to the patient. In most countries, the patient must grant access before anyone other than the staff of medical institutions may view the information. The reasons for keeping medical information private may include possible discrimination against people with a certain medical condition. However, it may be illegal to fail to disclose medical information in certain cases (for example, in the United Kingdom in 2001, Stephen Kelly was found guilty of "culpable and reckless" conduct for failing to tell his girlfriend he was HIV-positive before having unprotected sex with her ). Also see remarks on the Roe v Wade abortion decision below.
The concept of “genetic discrimination” and the associated need for confidentiality of genetic information, or "genetic privacy," have only recently entered our vocabulary. But the problem is well documented. In numerous cases around the world, individuals and family members have been barred from employment or lost their health and life insurance based on an apparent or perceived genetic abnormality. Many of those who have suffered discrimination are clinically healthy and exhibit none of the symptoms of a genetic disorder. Often, genetic testing results in uncertain probabilities rather than clear-cut predictions of disease. Even in the most definitive genetic conditions, which are few in number, there remains a wide variability in the timing of onset and severity of clinical symptoms. Employers have access to medical/genetic information, which may be used to discriminate against their employees.
Privacy during an online job search
People looking for a job online usually register on an Internet web site and provide a resume, CV, or "profile". Naturally, this provides a generous amount of personal information, e.g. education, job titles, responsibilities, and contact information. Personal information of such detail is not usually shared with casual acquaintances or strangers, unless they are perceived as potential employers. In some cases, people blindly trust websites by submitting the complete contents of their resume/CV hoping that the result may be a job offer, when in fact they are providing information to marketers or scam artists. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission holds websites responsible for following their published policies for how this provided information is used.
- Main article: Internet privacy
Using the Internet leaves a trail of information about one's activity if privacy software, careful clean-up or a proxy server is not used. A user's computer can reveal, for example, a web browser's history, cache or logs to reveal what the user has done. Websites will also have their own logs showing the IP address and other demographic data from each computer to which it provides access.
Privacy from corporations
Many companies exist with a goal to obtain as much information about customers as possible, through loyalty cards and other kinds of customer schemes. This data is immensely valued by other companies, which may pay large amounts of money for access to this information for marketing purposes (often telemarketing). A huge public backlash against telemarketers led to the introduction of the National Do Not Call Registry in the United States, and similar systems in other countries.
With the increasing amount of e-mail spam being sent, often advertising products for sale, solutions to prevent the loss of privacy (as the spammers use social engineering and other similar practices to keep an up-to-date list of email addresses) have been developed. See e-mail spam for more information.
Laws regulating the use of personal information by companies have diverged significantly between Europe and the United States, with strong regulation in the European Union and requirements for explicit permission before personal information can be reused. Conversely, this area is largely unregulated in the USA. In the USA, the free speech provision of the First Amendment provides many protections against regulating the sharing and use of personal information.
Privacy from government interference
As a human right, privacy primarily relates to government actions, not private actions. Human rights guarantees do not impose broad obligations on governments to protect individuals against possible invasions of their privacy by other individuals. However Constitutional and international guarantees require that restrictions on freedom of expression, even in the interests of privacy, must meet a very high standard of legality and necessity. Governments in many countries are given powers to breach privacy. This is often the case in criminal investigations, where police are permitted to search for and seize private property from places where they would otherwise be prohibited from entering without probable cause to do so. Telephone tapping, where all information being transmitted over a phone line is secretly monitored, is often permissible for Law Enforcement Agencies, although it usually requires permission from a court. This can then be used as evidence in trials where it is used to secure convictions against criminals. However, in the past, numerous cases have been overturned in the United States because the wiretap was not legally allowed. Other ways to monitor people include closed-circuit television cameras, which are placed in public.
The desirability of the government monitoring communications, whether permitted by law or not, is a common debate. Organizations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the right to privacy from the government is an inalienable human right and that it is up to the person whether they should have to disclose information. Other groups, including government agencies like the National Security Agency, maintain that the ability to monitor all communications aids in the prevention of criminal activity and terrorism.
Effects of war upon privacy
During periods of war, identity documents and similar artifacts have been introduced to establish the identity of the holder. These were used for security purposes — individuals who did not carry the required documents were assumed to be spies and could be interrogated. In World War I identity cards were introduced in the United Kingdom, but in 1919 compulsion to carry them was removed. They were reintroduced in World War II, but after the successful prosecution of Clarence Henry Willcock for refusing to present his card to the police, the law was repealed in 1952. In this case, Lord Chief Justice Lord Goddard commented that identity cards "tend to make people resentful of the acts of the police".
Rights of the individual, including habeas corpus, often only apply in periods of peacetime. During the American Civil War in the United States, and during World War II in the United Kingdom, habeas corpus was suspended.
It is the opinion of some that the September 11, 2001 attacks and the "War on Terrorism" declared by the United States government, has reduced the right to privacy. Proponents of this belief cite the introduction of bills such as the Patriot Act, and the President's power as Commander in Chief to use whatever force necessary to defeat the enemy, as granted by congressional act. Opponents cite existing U.S. laws governing privacy rights of citizens, such as the FISA court, and limitations against domestic spying by agencies such as the NSA, DIA, and CIA.
In 2005, the Labour United Kingdom government have introduced a bill, the Identity Cards Bill, which would create a national identity database and introduce a national identity card. The idea was initially revived after the September 11, 2001 attacks by the then-Home Secretary, David Blunkett, and became part of Labour's manifesto for the 2005 general election.
As of 2006, the right to privacy remains an important point of political debate in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries.
Arguments for government monitoring
- Increased crime detection - due to the placement of CCTV cameras, the success rate of conviction is increased as criminals are more likely to be convicted due to the increased ability to prove a suspect committed an offence.
- Prevention of terrorism - terrorist activities need coordination and this is often done using electronic equipment. If communications between devices can be monitored, the activities of terrorists can be prevented before any terrorist attacks are carried out, and their networks can be disclosed by network analysis and traffic analysis.
Arguments against government monitoring
- Surveillance infringes on civil liberties - there is a lack of anonymity if facial recognition systems can be used, for example, to identify protestors in a demonstration.
- CCTV cameras displace crime, rather than eliminate it - criminals move to areas where CCTV is not in place.
- Due to the enormous manpower require to operate and monitor, many crimes (even if recorded) go unnoticed for hours, days, or even months, while costing money for upkeep and wages.
- Monitoring can be used in committing crime, for example police officers have been caught using cameras to invade the personal privacy of women walking through airports.
- Gathering data about many people in one place (the monitoring centre) provides a valuable source of data which would fuel illegal activities if the integrity of the operators were ever compromised.
- The same technology used for disclosing networks of terrorists and criminals can be used by repressive regimes for finding dissidents, and allows easy blackmailing, blacklisting or prosecuting of people for their guilt by association (see the Red Scare for a set of historical examples). Its presence itself can provide a considerable chilling effect for political dissent.
Privacy in the Workplace
The EU Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data limits and regulates the collection of personal information on individuals, including workers. Firms that monitor employees' use of e-mail, the internet or phones as part of their business practice, and do not tell employees or have not obtained employee consent to do so, can in most cases be sued under Article 8 the European Convention on Human Rights which provides for the right to respect for his private and family life. On the other hand, although EU law is clear that e-mail interception is illegal, the law is not totally clear as to whether companies may prohibit employees from sending private e-mails.
- Main article: Civil liberties
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in article 12, states:
- 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.
Countries such as France protect privacy explicitly in their constitution (France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen), while the Supreme Court of the United States has found that the U.S. constitution contains "penumbras" that implicitly grant a right to privacy against government intrusion, for example in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Other countries without constitutions have laws protecting privacy, such as the United Kingdom's Data Protection Act 1998. The European Union requires all member states to legislate to ensure that citizens have a right to privacy, through directives such as Directive 95/46.
If the privacy of an individual is breached, the individual may bring a lawsuit asking for monetary damages. However, in the United Kingdom, some recent cases involving celebrities such as David Beckham, have resulted in defeat as the information has been determined in the courts to be in the public interest. In the United States, the right of freedom of speech granted in the First Amendment have limited the effects of lawsuits for breach of privacy.
Organisations such as Privacy International, a London-based non-governmental organisation formed in 1990, exist as a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations. On the flip side organizations such as ARTICLE 19 a UK based non-governmental organization exist as a watchdog on governments using privacy as a tool for censorship and restrictions on free speech.
In the United States, Federal law regulating communications carriers prohibits the disclosure of customer phone records . Breaches of this law in the private sector were found to be common, with sales of call detail information becoming the subject of Congressional inquiry. More recently, it has been revealed that the United States National Security Agency has been warehousing the call detail information of billions of individual phone calls for pattern analysis. Whether this was done in violation of law or through powers granted by Congress as part of the broader "War on Terrorism" is the subject of debate.
- Civil liberties
- Data privacy
- Mass surveillance
- Privileged communication
- Social behavior
- Landmark Aids case begins in Scotland, from BBC News (retrieved 26 April, 2005).
- Sylvia Mercado Kierkegaard (2005) Reading Your Keystroke: Whose Mail Is It? Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Publisher: Springer Berlin / Heidelberg, Volume 3592 / 2005, Chapter: p. 256
- Does Beckham judgement change rules?, from BBC News (retrieved 27 April, 2005).
- U.S. Code Title 47, Chapter 5, Subchapter II, Part I, Section 222
- Dennis Bailey, Open Society Paradox: Why The Twenty-first Century Calls For More Openness--not Less, Brasseys Inc (November, 2004), hardcover, 224 pages, ISBN 1574889168
- Robert O Harrow, No Place To Hide: Behind The Scenes Of Our Emerging Surveillance Society, Free Press or Simon and Schuster (January, 2005), hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0743254805
- K. A. Taipale, "Technology, Security and Privacy: The Fear of Frankenstein, the Mythology of Privacy, and the Lessons of King Ludd," 7 Yale J. L. & Tech. 123 ; 9 Intl. J. Comm. L. & Pol'y 8 (Dec. 2004) (arguing for incorporating privacy protecting features in the construction of information systems through value sensitive design).
- Electronic Frontier Foundation digital rights NGO
- Electronic Privacy Information Center a public interest research center
- Privacy International UK-based International privacy NGO
- Privacy Spot privacy law blog
- The Privacy Place Research Center
- World Privacy Forum U.S. consumer education group
- Read Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports regarding Privacy
- "The Right to Privacy" (Warren and Brandeis) the seminal law review article for U.S. privacy law
- OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy describe principles behind many contemporary privacy laws
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry
- European Privacy Protection for Wikipedia Users on the blog of Jean-Baptiste Soufron
- Data Protection in the European Union, from the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security
- Genetic privacy and the law
- The condition of privacy in Italy
- EU-IST news - IT security and privacy regulation - what is happening in Europe?
- Congress Erodes Privacy by Rep. Ron Paul, Ph. D.
- The Eternal Value of Privacy by Bruce Schneier from Wired magazine
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