Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Privacy Issue

Monday's lecture, including the viewing of the ABC documentary, and yesterday's presentation on e-monitoring together provided a thorough overview of the issue of privacy. While I knew this issue was becoming increasingly controversial with the continuous evolution of tracking and information technologies, I was unaware of its complexity from both legal and ethical standpoints. Whether in public, at the office, or "safely" behind the locked doors of our homes, it is now obvious that there is always a watching eye.

Tessa's review of relevant legislation made it apparent that opposing views on the privacy issue result from a difference in opinions, rather than constitutional interpretation. Conditionally, I do not oppose most of the various forms of monitoring. In the majority of instances, it seems that the benefits of monitoring far outweigh the consequent inconveniences and sacrifices.

As an office employee, I would enjoy remaining up-to-date on the latest popular YouTube videos and the status of Ty Lawson's swollen big toe while I carry out my day's work. As an employer, though, I would expect my employees to only perform the tasks for which they are paid while on the clock. In a small office setting, surveillance and Internet monitoring would not necessarily be necessary, and could prove harmful to the work environment by breaching bonds of trust. Due to a less intimate environment, monitoring and Internet surveillance are more beneficiary and appropriate. In such instances, employees should know exactly what is being monitored and in what fashion. While the disguised camera under the statue is completely out of the question, the Keiths of the office need to be stopped from occupying such an extensive amount of server space with their personal files and get back to work.

Likely a more controversial opinion, I am not opposed to the exchange of my information among companies. If I purchase a dog kennel, I would appreciate if the store from which I purchased the kennel would offer my email address to a dog food supply company that will ultimately contact me with coupons and other special offers. This exchange should only occur with my consent, and I should be able to opt-out of receiving any further information from the dog food company if I decide to do so. Companies that acquire the personal contact information of customers should never engage any sort of behavior that could be remotely considered harassment.

One of the most talked about issues among all privacy issues is government surveillance, my opinion is somewhat torn. Prior to understanding the complexities of this issue, I was quick to support unapproved wire tapping and other forms of government surveillance if it meant securing the American people. However, I now realize that excessive use of these forms of monitoring without the proper evidence can seriously disrupt the lives of innocent citizens. Only to the extent that these forms of government surveillance can be used to locate those whom they target should they be used in a casual fashion.

Because the lecture and presentation so thoroughly covered the privacy issue, neither much allowed for class discussion and the exchange of opinions. Because this issue is so controversial and becoming increasingly important, where do you stand on the various forms of monitoring by employers, private companies, and the government? What would you like to see removed, changed, or added by any of these institutions concerning privacy? How does your stance compare to mine?


  1. My take on the surveillance of American citizens is that yes, I do believe there are times when it is appropriate, for national security reasons, to breach some of our privacy rights for the greater good (I am a fan of Jack Bauer).

    That being said, I think sometimes authorities can take this privilege way too far and use legislation, such as the Patriot Act, as a "blank check" to monitor citizens when national security issues aren't at play. The Bush administration has pretty much been reprimanded for this practice when they were wire tapping citizens without approval. And then there's the question Prof. Nicholas brought up about then what are they actually using the info for. You can't monitor me for national security reasons, but then use that info to charge me with something else. It then becomes a scary 1984 scenario, where Big Brother is always watching.

    I understand we live in a different world where high-intelligent threats are more numerous, but at the same I think we shouldn't have to infringe on our rights in order to protect them.

  2. I do not have any problem with companies keeping track of my purchasing habits. I have peace of mind in that, most likely, a computer will be analyzing my buying habits as opposed to an actual person. If other people were able to look at everything that I have bought, I would feel that there was a breach of privacy. However, if only a computer is analyzing my buying habits in order to determine product recommendations and coupons that should be sent to me, I do not object. The e-mails I get from and other vendors with product recommendations are usually an annoyance. I sometimes, however, find product recommendations useful. iTunes, for instance, will suggest other songs or artists that I may be interested in and I do sometimes find myself liking the suggestions.

  3. Along with Oliver, I too am not phased by commercial companies tracking my spending habits, etc. in order to target their marketing and promotions to a more specific audience (people who actually buy related products). The main reason that I am fine with this is the ability for me to simply 'unsubscribe' from said mailing list. Unfortunately we cannot 'unsubscribe' to things like government oversight, or tell Google not to track and file every single search that we have ever done, but we are moving into an age where computer tracking and analysis is becoming a vital tool in security, retail, and other sectors. Whether I like it or not, I am being tracked on my computer as we speak, and probably will be for a long time to come.