Protecting the Privacy of Individuals on the Internet
Over the past decade the world has gotten much smaller due to the electronic communication the Internet has fostered. While this promotes business and international relations, problems arise regarding the protection of individuals’ personal information. Many countries around the world have developed privacy policies and laws protect an individual's information in the realm of electronic communication. Universal enforcement gets complicated because the Internet is not restricted to one country; it’s worldwide. As a result, concerns arise regarding the compatibility of various countries' privacy policies. This paper will discuss the current legislation in place for various major countries1, the existing conflicts between these countries’ policies and the implications these conflicts hold for the protection of privacy on the Internet.
To begin, consider how countries handle the privacy of individuals in general, not exclusively in the electronic environment. Most countries around the world protect an individual’s right to privacy in some respects, because “privacy is a fundamental human right that has become one of the most important human rights of the modern age”2. Definitions for privacy vary according to context and environment. For example, in the United States Justice Louis Brandeis defined privacy as the “right to be left alone”3. In the United Kingdom, privacy is “the right of an individual to be protected against intrusion into his personal life or affairs…by direct physical means or by publication of information”4. Australian legislation states that “privacy is a basic human right and the reasonable expectation of every person”5. Regardless of varying definitions of privacy, the importance of an individual’s privacy is recognized on some level.
Every country in the world has a provision for privacy, even if it is as simple as the right to privacy in one’s home or the right to secrecy of communication. On a more global level, international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights protect the privacy of individuals around the world. We see that in order to protect the fundamental privacy rights of individuals, laws have been established on both local and global scales. Therefore, it follows that laws are also necessary to protect the information of individuals in the electronic environment.
Two types of laws are adopted by various countries to protect the sensitive information of individuals on the web. The first kind, comprehensive laws, are laws “that govern the collection, use and dissemination of personal information by both the public and private sectors”6. These general laws do not deal with individual areas like health care or educational systems. Instead, they establish standards for use of private information for all entities. Comprehensive laws are usually adopted...