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We Cannot Permit Infringements On Privacy

3898 words - 16 pages

George Orwell foresees a nightmarish-future for the world in his book 1984, where individualism loses precedence to "the good of society," and with it goes the individual's private life. "The [controlling] Party" in the socialist government knows the intimate details of all citizens, and prosecutes those who violate social orders through threatening speech, behavior or thoughts. The omnipresent visual warning "Big Brother is Watching You,” reminds citizens that no personal information is safe from the "Thought Police." While this may seem far-fetched to some, Orwell envisioned technology facilitating government's abuse of power in 1950; in the twenty-first century, progress has left one's private life susceptible to interested parties in both the public and private sectors. In 1997, Ralph Nader cautioned, "The people are not organized not equipped with the knowledge, tools or skills to confront the invasions of the self they can see, let alone the far greater, more subterranean kinds of surveillance" (viii). With the rise of computers to their current capabilities, collecting, storing, accessing and sharing personal data has become easier than ever before: governments and companies no longer keep files of paper records on individuals, which accessing, stealing or sharing would be too arduous a task, but rather electronic databases that they can easily create, access and link. Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy note in their book The Right to Privacy, "From a privacy point of view, we are in the midst of the most unsettling period in [the computer] revolution" (326). Computers do not threaten personal privacy, though, nor violate any right granted to Americans: the word 'privacy' does not appear in the Constitution, nor does the phrase "right to privacy." As Americans, we have assumed a protection of personal information, but no laws prohibit any parties from utilizing technology in a profiting, benefiting or malicious way. The issue of personal privacy should alarm Americans to focus on established privacy in America, infringements on privacy and efforts aiming at protecting personal information in lieu of a right to privacy.

Privacy has been legally established in the United States over the course of its history mostly through Congressional Acts and Supreme Court decisions: specific privacy rights are not stated in the Constitution, and several amendments have been interpreted as giving privacy rights. In 1974 Congress passed into law the Privacy Act, which "protects records that can be retrieved by personal identifiers such as a name, social security number, or other identifying number or symbol," and also grants access to personal information for the purpose of correcting any inaccuracies. While the act prevents the disclosure of personal information, this stipulation has twelve exceptions; furthermore, only Federal databases are subject to the Privacy Act. Considering the "liberties" given to citizens by the Act and its two significant...

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