The Challenges to Privacy in an Increasingly Connected World

Human beings have always valued their privacy and worked towards the protection of their personal sphere of life. They remain hesitant about who knows what about them and they certainly don’t want their personal information to be accessible to just about anyone, at any given time. But now, with the growth of e-commerce and the widespread availability of online databases, many fears have been raised regarding loss of privacy. The control over personal data has been reduced and consequently it has also opened up the possibility of personal data being misused since its out there.

There has been heightened attention around the world to the use of multiple government and private databases. The added scrutiny is there in order to identify possible perpetrators of attacks in the future, using only databases containing personal information.

Increasing the power of latest technology and the ensuing decline of privacy that it brings with itself has given rise to problems concerning law and ethics. Although for business firms, personal information regarding customers remains a key asset, it is the meaning and value of privacy today that remains the subject of considerable controversy.

The Socio-Economic Effect

The use of technology for processing any form of private information has impacted the society on:

  • Individual level

On the individual level, misuse of data can result in the loss of dignity and spontaneity, as well as a threat to freedom and the right to privacy.

  • Social level

On a societal level, we witness an increase in the growth of information businesses such as credit bureau and telecommunication companies who use personal information as a commodity. It becomes socially acceptable for companies to collect data.

Internet Privacy

Internet privacy refers to techniques, factors and technologies that are used to protect private and sensitive data, communications and preferences.

The Ethical Implications of Use of Technology

Technology’s main ethical impact relates to accessibility, inaccessibility and the manipulation of information. It creates the possibility of wider as well as simultaneous access to information. The use of technology has impacted the privacy of people in many ways:

Private Communication

The interception and reading of e-mail messages is an ethical problem but it is normally justified by the companies as they see e-mails as a resource belonging to the company and not the individual.

Personal Information

This relates to electronic monitoring of people of the workplace and it is done by so-called electronic eyes. The organizations justify themselves for the use of such technology by saying that it increases productivity.

Data Banking

It relates to the integration of personal information from a variety of databases into one central bank. The main issue that exists in this case is that individual is not aware of personal information being integrated into a central database, the purpose for which the integration is effected and whether the information is accurate.

Rise of Hackers & Crackers

The biggest threat to privacy is the growing number of so-called hackers that break into computer systems. The term “hacking” is not new, with the earliest known incidents of modern technological mischief dating back from 1878 to the current and newest forms of hacking which involves finding and connecting to unsecured Wireless Access Points, unauthorized access to systems or computer services in order to steal data for criminal purposes.

Can IT Itself Solve These Privacy Concerns?

Advancing technology might be considered a cause for privacy problems but there are methods that can be applied for resolving confidentiality issues. Ethically informed design methodologies can be used for  encryption to safeguard individual information from unconstitutional practices.

  1. Value sensitive Design Approach accounts for human values in a principled manner throughout the design process.
  2. The Privacy by Design Approach provides high level guidelines in the form of principles for designing privacy maintaining systems.
  3. The Privacy Impact Assessment Approach proposes a process for evaluating the effects on privacy of a project.

Software Tools for Privacy Protection

Software tools such as communication anonymizing tools like Tor, Freenet and identity management system are available that provide some form of privacy for their users.

These rules and principles provide guidelines for privacy preserving systems but they by no means make sure that IT system will become privacy-friendly. They actually aim to increase the level of awareness and consent of the user and it can be seen as an attempt to apply the notion of informed consent to privacy issues with technology. These problems can be handled by formulating practical guidelines according to the norms of freedom, truth and human rights.

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