By Michael J. Nash
Living in a modern, interconnected world brings enormous benefits. The most obvious is that the speed of communication and information sharing has opened up new ways for people to disseminate ideas and conduct new types of business. This method of transmission existed only a few generations ago in the field of science fiction. In addition to the benefits of this new world, many new vital issues have also been raised. The same technology that allows families to communicate in real-time on different continents can also broadly record, store, and classify the content of these conversations.
Online stores using the same technology to customize your shopping experience, providing you with what you really want without leaving your home, also enable the data warehouse to describe you in great detail. They are able to do this using the information that you have provided, along with information about you gathered from sources throughout the internet. By leveraging this enormous amount of consumer data, these companies can draw statistical conclusions with incredible accuracy.
Privacy at this level is the intersection of two basic social concepts: control and trust. That is, who can control the information about you, and do you trust him or her to keep that information confidential? When a student enters a university, they know that the university classifies their academic performance in the classroom. Performance tables can replace the student’s intellect, work ethic, or even their interest (or lack of interest) in a particular area of research. This is personal information about a person and should be kept secret. Unluckily for the scholar, they do not control the data – the data exists in the university database. However, due to local laws and contractual obligations, the student knows that the university would face severe fines and penalties if they transferred their personal data to others without prior permission.
Because of this protection, the student “believes” that their personal information will be protected by the university; the university’s interests coincide with the students through a threat of consequences. The problem is that we are faced with this situation every day, and those on the other end often face little to no consequences.
The fact is, we are often forced to give up several controls over our private information for reasons of convenience, law, or any other force. Usually, this is done with the expectation that the information will be used only for an agreed-upon purpose.
Unfortunately, many of these organizations show that they are not trustworthy. Regardless of whether a government eavesdrops on its citizens without complying with legal requirements or your ISP sells your internet history to marketers and data collectors, it’s clear that people cannot trust those who have control of their private information.
Now we face a dilemma: how do we maintain our confidentiality when we are forced to give up control over private information, and we know that we can not trust the entity that possesses the information? At this point, the concept of anonymity begins to rise to the surface.
Consider the blog post of a dissident who criticizes the regime that currently controls their country. In any country, it can be assumed that a portion of the population does not support the current leadership, which is not typically a serious problem. The difficulty comes into play when the dissident ISPs provide the government with journal data related to blog posts and their home Internet connection. The fact that they do not trust their provider any longer matters if someone can somehow fork out the physical world from a blog post. We are seeing these very things happing in certain countries today.
Why online privacy matters
Because the identity of our children and grandchildren don’t even exist on the internet yet, and the child and corporate predators are waiting.
There are two common myths surrounding online privacy.
- Even though some of the biggest companies in the world got that way buying and selling your data. Some people still do not believe that they produce any meaningful or valuable data. Therefore, they see no reason to protect themselves or demand control over or compensation for said data.
- While others think their data is safe and sufficiently protected, so why bother with this? Even though in today’s very headlines personal information about half of this country was stolen by a foreign country. The company that was in possession of that data will get some bad press for a little while, but it is you that bares all the risk. It is your information that is stolen, you’re the actual victim and you will be the one left to clean up the mess.
There is an entire economy to be discussed around the individual’s ownership of their own data which would not only strengthen cybersecurity but would stimulate the economy and reduce the cost of government regulation. A topic for a future article perhaps.
In the meantime, it is important to understand that data gets old and loses value, so new accurate data must be collected on you all the time. All is not lost just because you misunderstood what you had in the past; you actually still have it.
Here is the truth about online privacy:
- Regardless of whether you understand it or not, you are responsible for publishing most of your personal data.
- That data in most cases is stored indefinitely, and you have little to no control over it or any way to mandate its destruction
- The websites you visit every day may sell your data to third parties.
- Many companies prioritize profits over the protection of their user data. This can lead to massive data leaks, resulting in your personal records becoming openly available on the internet.
- Some ads include not only information about promotional products but also tracking cookies to monitor your viewing habits.
- Using this data, advertising agencies can influence your decisions about buying, voting, and even changing your life.
All of this can be very painful because anyone who has enough of your information can access your credit history, medical records, social security number, or location. Once hackers gain the right of entry to all of the above data, they can even:
– Steal your identity
– Blackmail you
– Demand a ransom
– Damage your reputation
– Sell your information to others
Privacy Breach – Past, Present, and Future
Technology has changed a lot over the years, but our need for personal privacy has not changed. Today, privacy is equally important, especially on the Internet, where secret companies track us and sell our personal information.
Fast-growing technologies, such as super cookies, can even be inserted into your data stream by your ISP to track everything you do on the internet. Zombie cookies can also be installed on your computer to thwart your attempts to clean up your browsing history.
The bottom line is that Americans need more control over how internet companies collect and transmit our personal data. We also need single, understandable privacy protection that covers all aspects of the Internet.
In the original charter of this country, the founding documents proclaim that to secure the rights of its citizens, governments are instituted amongst men and that it is the duty of government to not only respect but also to protect the rights of its citizens.
Keeping that in mind, let us look at the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states that the government must protect:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,…”
The amendment goes on to say that your right to privacy:
“…shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Meaning that not only is government required to protect your rights to privacy from others, but that in order for the government itself to violate your right to privacy an agent of the government must stand before a judge, under oath, and provide detailed reasoning and information before a judge can evaluate the evidence presented and determine if there is enough reason to allow an officer of the court to violate an individual’s right to privacy.
This is an incredibly high standard providing Americans with another unique individual right, not held or respected in most other countries around the world.
What this also means is that your right to privacy is to be respected and protected relating to you, “the person” no matter where are you are. That protection also extends to your dwellings, data (in 1789 it was paper, today it’s data) and effects (the things you own, including the public spaces, paid for by your tax dollars.) I know this flies in the face of popular opinion in a post 9/11 world, but you are actually supposed to be entitled to privacy even in public spaces. The public I.E. community, municipal, civic spaces which are owned by “the people,” are considered part of your effects and were paid for with your tax dollars; you own them and so the Fourth Amendment applies even to them.
At this point, anyone who suspects Congress needs to take action should consider the groundwork already laid out in Europe with the GDPR and the right to erasure and the right to be forgotten.
According to this, personal data must be erased immediately where the data is no longer needed for the original processing purpose, or the data subject has withdrawn his consent and there is no other legal ground for processing, the data subject has objected and there are no overriding legitimate grounds for the processing or erasure is required to fulfill a statutory obligation under the law…
Given the breadth of privacy issues today, there is only one realistic solution. Congress should use its constitutional authority to ensure that our privacy is better protected. This means a set of rules covering the entire Internet: sites, advertising trackers, search engines, content delivery networks, mobile applications and everything else.
Our data is valuable. That data allows everyone from the federal government to your local supermarket to assess current needs and future plans. Data is what makes our online experience fit our interests.
However, if a government or large technology company misuse our personal information, the damage is huge and lasting. In trading away our privacy for what amounts to bobbles and trinkets, we are undermining our security. From the high level of risk associated with stolen social security indicators resulting in billions of taxpayer dollars stolen to private information leaked on the Internet. To weaknesses in cellular phone security allowing anyone to turn any phone into a tracking unit, with a microphone and camera able to monitor everything you say and do on a daily basis. These things are putting individuals and our economic and national security interests at risk.
These problems have existed for some time and they continue to get worse. This is partly because of the distraction that is technology evolves much faster than the government can react. That said, it is time for Congress to pass a new comprehensive federal privacy law, which reinforces the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and begins to address some of these vital concerns.
Privacy and security are forever intertwined, the undermining of one fundamentally weakens the other.