Chapter 3: Is the Right to Privacy Threatened?
Chapter 3 Preface
The right to privacy is not mentioned explicitly anywhere in the Constitution. However, a right to privacy is thought to be inherent in the Fourth Amendment’s limits on search and seizure and the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Moreover, as researcher for USConstitution.net Steve Mount explains, “Supreme Court decisions over the years have established that the right to privacy is a basic human right, and as such is protected by virtue of the Ninth Amendment,” which states that individuals have rights other than those enumerated in the Constitution.
Many critics fear that the right to privacy—perhaps because it is not explicitly protected by the Constitution—is rapidly eroding as advances in information technology make it easier for governments, corporations, and individuals to pry into people’s personal information. Books such as Database Nation: The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century and The End of Privacy: How Total Surveillance Is Becoming a Reality detail how individuals’ personal financial and medical information is available to those willing to purchase or steal it. “As we move into the computerized world of the twenty-first century, privacy will be one of our most important civil rights,” writes Simson Garfinkel, author of Database Nation. “Technology is killing one of our most cherished freedoms,” he maintains. “The shape of our future will be determined in large part by how...
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Loss of Privacy Is a Serious Problem
About the author: Charles J. Sykes is a journalist and the author of The End of Privacy, from which the following viewpoint is excerpted.
“In a few hours, sitting at my computer,” writes Carole A. Lane, “beginning with no more than your name and address, I can find what you do for a living, the names and ages of your spouse and children, what kind of car you drive, the value of your house, and how much you pay in taxes on it. From what I learn about your job, your house, and the demographics of your neighborhood, I can make a good guess at your income. I can uncover that forgotten drug bust in college. . . .” If anything, Ms. Lane is being modest.
For a small fee, she can uncover far more about you: your Social Security number, your bank balance, any stock, bonds, and mutual funds you own, your telephone records, your credit history, even your medical history.
Trapped in the Dataweb
For two months in 1997 the Social Security Administration put the detailed income history of millions of Americans on the Internet, where it could easily be accessed with a few pieces of information and keystrokes. It backed off only after a public outcry over potential invasions of privacy. But there are no legal restrictions on the distribution of Social Security numbers by private companies or individuals. Such information is still readily available from a number of private sources.
Even strict rules protecting...
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Stronger Privacy Protection Laws Are Necessary
About the author: Dianne Feinstein is the senior U.S. senator from California.
[In June 2001] Americans were inundated by letter upon letter from banks, credit-card companies, and other financial institutions explaining their privacy policies. Why? So that these companies could comply with the July 1, 2001, deadline as required by the 1999 Gramm-Leach-Bliley banking deregulation law.
Most people, however, threw these notices in the trash. The material was confusing and often disregarded. But if you didn’t take the notice seriously, the company may be free to sell your personal information to anyone willing to buy it.
Identity Piracy: A Growing Problem
Put simply, the 1999 law didn’t go far enough to protect Americans’ personal information. As a result, people are more at risk from identity theft than ever before.
Increasingly, your personal information—such as Social Security number, driver’s license, and health and financial data—can be purchased without your knowledge for as little as $35 on the Internet or by pilfering your trash or mail. The FBI estimates that a case of identity theft occurs every two minutes, or roughly 350,000 times each year. Additionally, the Social Security Administration reports that misuse of Social Security numbers has grown 500% in only four years.
Identity piracy can happen to anyone—even a prosecutor. Recently, a Colorado assistant attorney...
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Individuals’ Ability to Communicate Anonymously Via the Internet Is Threatened
About the author: Jonathan D. Wallace is an attorney and the author of Sex, Law, and Cyberspace: Freedom and Censorship on the Frontiers of the Online Revolution.
In a 1997 decision, a Federal district court in Georgia invalidated a state law criminalizing anonymous and pseudonymous Internet communications. In so doing, the court issued a decision consistent with centuries of American tradition and jurisprudence. Throughout the history of the U.S., pseudonymous and anonymous authors have made a rich contribution to political discourse. Had the court held any other way, it would have fallen into the common trap of treating the Internet as being unique, unrelated to any prior communications media. Instead, the court recognized that there is no distinction to be drawn between anonymous communications on the Net and in a leaflet or book.
The Rich Tradition of Anonymous Speech
Controversial and thought-provoking speech has frequently been issued from under the cover of anonymity, by writers who feared prosecution or worse if their identities were known. The authors of Cato’s Letters, an influential series of essays about freedom of speech and political liberty published from 1720 on, were two British men, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. Cato’s Letters had a wide following in America.
In 1735, printer John Peter Zenger was arrested for seditious libel for publishing pseudonymous essays by Lewis Morris, James...
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Face-Recognition Technology Threatens Individual Privacy
About the authors: Jay Stanley is the privacy public education coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union and a former analyst at Forrester Research. Barry Steinhardt is associate director of the ACLU, chair of the ACLU Cyberliberties Task Force, and cofounder of the Global Internet Liberty Campaign. Since September 11, facial recognition systems—computer programs that analyze images of human faces gathered by video surveillance cameras—are being increasingly discussed and occasionally deployed, largely as a means for combating terrorism. They are being set up in several airports around the United States, including Logan Airport in Boston, T.F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, San Francisco International Airport, Fresno Airport in California and Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. The technology was also used at the 2001 Super Bowl, and plans are underway to use it at the NFL championship again in 2002.
The technology is not just being used in places where terrorists are likely to strike, however: in Tampa, Florida, it is also being aimed at citizens on public streets. In the summer of 2001, the Tampa Police Department installed several dozen cameras, assigned staff to monitor them, and installed a face recognition application called Face-IT® manufactured by the Visionics Corporation of New Jersey. On June 29, 2001, the department began scanning the faces of citizens as they walked down Seventh Avenue in the Ybor City...
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The Threat to Privacy Is Exaggerated
About the author: Michael Lind is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy institute, and the coauthor of The Radical Center: The Future of American Politics.
In a remarkably short period of time, “privacy” has moved from the margins to the center of political debate in the United States, Canada and Europe. The nebulous concept today embraces a number of issues, ranging from the serious— the possible abuse of the results of genetic testing by corporations and the government—to the trivial—the sharing of information about consumer preferences among businesses that bombard hapless consumers with unsolicited catalogs and e-mail advertisements. What unites these diverse concerns, according to the emerging consensus, is the danger that new technologies of surveillance, data-recording and data exchange will be put to nefarious purposes. Big Brother, we are cautioned again and again, is finally here—not in the form of a totalitarian state, but of something subtler and perhaps more sinister, a universal surveillance society.
A few thinkers have challenged this perception, among them the communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni, who stresses the need to balance individual privacy against the legitimate interests of the community, and the scientist David Brin, who argues that we must adapt to “the transparent society” rather than attempt to prevent its evolution. Despite these dissenters, fear of...
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Stronger Privacy Protection Laws Are Unnecessary
About the author: Amitai Etzioni is the author of The Limits of Privacy and teaches at George Washington University.
[As of September 2001] members of Congress are returning to Capitol Hill, having assessed what’s on voters’ minds. They may have found that privacy ranks much lower among the public’s concerns than the chattering classes report. And for good reasons.
Commentators have kept up a drumbeat about ever-rising threats to privacy. In Tampa, Florida, the police are reported to feed mug shots of crime suspects into computers connected to cameras that scan the faces of people in the street. Dick Armey, House majority leader, railed against cameras introduced to catch red-light runners. New police flashlights measure the alcohol on one’s breath. New software from Microsoft and AOL is said to pose new threats to privacy.
Little wonder one of the new cliches is that privacy is at the same spot on the public learning—and alarm—curve as the environment was in the 1960s. And there are plenty of volunteers to don the Rachel Carson [a pioneer of environmentalist advocacy] mantle and do for privacy what she did for nature in her book “Silent Spring.” At least half a dozen books bemoan the death of privacy and the arrival of Big Brother. And a bunch of privacy advocacy groups keep filing legal cases against both public and private intruders.
Moreover, it is possible to find US public opinion polls that...
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Individuals Should Not Be Allowed to Communicate Anonymously Via the Internet
About the author: David Davenport is an assistant professor in the Computer Engineering Department of Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.
Anonymous communication is seen as the cornerstone of an Internet culture that promotes sharing and free speech and is overtly anti-establishment. Anonymity, so the argument goes, ensures governments cannot spy on citizens and thus guarantees privacy and free speech. The recommendations of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s conference on “Anonymous Communication Policies for the Internet” support this view. Among the findings were that “online anonymous communication is morally neutral” and that “it should be considered a strong human and constitutional right.”
This view is fundamentally mistaken; by allowing anonymous communication we actually risk an incremental breakdown of the fabric of our society. The price of our freedoms is not, I believe, anonymity, but accountability. Unless individuals and, more importantly, governments can be held accountable, we lose all recourse to the law and hence risk our very freedom. The following sections argue this in more detail and suggest the only real solution is more openness, not less.
Social Justice Requires Accountability
Individuals living in a free society reap benefits in terms of sustenance, shelter, and protection. In return, they are expected to contribute to the community. Problems...
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Face-Recognition Technology Does Not Threaten Individual Privacy
About the author: Solveig Singleton is a lawyer and senior analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Project on Technology and Innovation.
The two dark-skinned young men, unshaven and heavily muscled, looked ominously foreign. No doubt more than one airline passenger breathed deeper in relief when security guards at the Roanoke, Virginia, airport pulled the men out of line to search their luggage and pat them down—once in the ticket line, again at the security gate and a third time before they boarded the plane. Three “random” searches to take a 20-minute flight.
Facial-recognition technology tied to a database of suspect terrorists, though, would have left the young men alone. My black-haired fiance and his brother are no threat. Their frightening musculature is cheerfully employed shifting furniture for their mom; their closest approach to battle is the world of online computer games. Yet the human element in our security forces instinctively will bristle at their approach until the United States is attacked by blond, blue-eyed Nordic terrorists, activists for reindeer rights or some myth of Aryan superiority.
A Bad Rap
Biometrics are getting a bad rap. Fingerprinting bears the stigma of its association with police procedure. DNA databases bring to mind horrific theories of genetic or racial purity. Facial-recognition cameras call up images of George Orwell’s 1984 and omnipresent...
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