Privacy in the Internet
How would you feel if I told you that I know almost everything there is to know about you – from your occupation to the brand of toothpaste you use, from your IQ to your culinary tastes, and so on – even though you have never met me, and possibly were not even aware of my existence? Most people would immediately state that they would feel violated, stripped of their individuality. Yet millions of people browse the Net day after day, blissfully ignorant of the fact that that they are always being monitored by someone to some degree. By selling you items and/or services, Amazon.com knows your reading preferences; your favorite online grocery store knows what kind of toothpaste you prefer; your university knows what your GPA is, etc. It does not seem at first that there is much of a problem in this. After all, even though all information about you is still “out there,” not all of it is accessible to any given person at any given time. Or is it? Currently, no explicit right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution is mentioned. In the case of Katz vs. U.S. (1967), it has been ruled that The Fourth Amendment provides us with a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” which means that the government must have a probable cause in order to legally monitor phone and electronic communications legally. Johnson mentions that the Privacy Act of 1974 applies to the federal government and not to private organizations (p. 115). Therefore, it may not be illegal for your grocery store and Amazon.com to cooperate and share information about you, for whatever the reason. More and more information about you will be accessible to some (or maybe even all) companies and individuals, gradually approaching the worst-case scenario: everything about you would be recorded in a single place, with easy access to mostly anyone (including the government).
The European Union (EU) has introduced and enacted a privacy law that protects all of its member countries’ citizens from both governmental and commercial misuse of citizens’ personal data. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been busy with protecting its businesses (e.g. passing laws such as DMCA, et. al.). Of course, that is not to say that no steps toward achieving a better privacy have been made by the U.S.
On April 21, 2000, Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) has come into effect. This law states that no information about children under the age of 13 may be collected without prior parents’ consent. Theoretically, the law only allows the data to be used as described to the parent. In practice, however, it does not prevent the operator (i.e. the collector of the information) from using the data in any way they like – so long as they mention the way of using the data. The reason for that is that many parents do not read the agreement, and in some instances, the child accessing the website is asked whether they have their parents’ permission, to which they just answer “yes” without...