Privacy in a Digital World
The history of privacy in the United States is a storied one. The context of the 4
Amendment to the Constitution has been debated for years to determine if the “right to
privacy” is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Additionally, many people are
technologically ignorant of what behaviors and activities will put them at risk.
The “Carnivore” is a good example of an historic digital technology that
generated privacy concerns. The Carnivore was a digital intelligence gathering tool that
was supposed to be used by the FBI to fight crime. People’s concerns about the tool
were so vocal, however, it was never used.
Currently, there are specific laws governing the protection of digital privacy. In
some cases, these laws protect the individual, and in others, they protect the
corporation or government entity intending to use digitally collected data to their
advantage. The Electronic Communication Privacy Act of 1986 and the Freedom of
Information Act of 1966 both address some privacy concerns.
One way digital privacy is compromised every day is the use of social or
professional networking sites. MySpace, Facebook, and other sites provide increased
access to people’s personal lives and information.
The advent of electronic mail has also brought additional concerns to the
forefront. Do employees have the right to privacy in their work-related electronic mail?
And is electronic mail used by governmental agencies to be considered part of the
The future of digital privacy is extremely uncertain. While corporations and
government entities continue to try and compromise individual privacy, many people are
still unaware of the risks inherent in using digital media for daily activities. Watchdog
groups do not receive sufficient support for their work, and many people are still
unaware of the level of surveillance they are currently under.
Corporations who use data mining techniques in order to more accurately target
their products and services sometimes compromise the privacy of the consumers they
wish to court. Entire enterprises have been created and sustained by the private
sector’s desire to market goods and services to the specific demographic that most
closely matches their “ideal consumer.” While in most cases the pursuit and use of this
information is legal, there can be no denying that it compromises the privacy of the
consumer, whether they know their privacy is being compromised or not.
Government entities that use the provisions of the Patriot Act sometimes
compromise the privacy of private citizens in their efforts to safeguard the United States.
Examples of this can be found as early as 2003, when the U.S. government used the
provisions of the Patriot Act to data mine private information from Las Vegas hotels,
acting on a tip that some sort of terrorist activity would take place during the New Year’s
celebration. Additionally, the use of illegal...