Personal Privacy In A Technologically Public World

2461 words - 10 pages

"No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."1

So states Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, enacted in 1948 after 20 years of debate and refinement among member nations. Furthermore, the United Nations Commissioner on Human Rights in 1988 made clear that human rights protections on the secrecy of communications broadly covers all forms of communications:

"Compliance with Article 17 requires that the integrity and confidentiality of correspondence should be ...view middle of the document...

In short, the Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the concept of "personhood", and supports the right of each person to a private personal life. This paper addresses some of the issues surrounding the growing use of technology in our everyday lives, and it's impact on personal privacy, particularly in the United States.

What kind of information might we consider private? Is it our driver's license number, social security number, Master Card and Visa numbers and ATM pin? Is it our mother's maiden name, our grades in high school, our educational history, work history and volunteer activities? Is it the color of our eyes and hair, our height and weight and shoe size? Is it the caste we were born into, the tribe or clan our family identifies with, the region where we grew up and the dialect we speak? All of this, and more, is personal information, in that it serves to identify us as unique individuals.

Personal information begins at the moment of birth, or even before. In a technologically advanced society such as ours, sonograms during mom's pregnancy may be our very first "portraits". Amniocentesis and other tools for evaluating the growth and development of the fetus may establish a genetic footprint before we are even born. The time of our birth is recorded, along with name, length, weight, parentage, blood type and other personal facts about us. A footprint may be recorded to further establish our identity. In the United States, we are assigned a social security number in our very first year when our parents file taxes, or apply for government aid. Basically, our identity is firmly established in various government archives by the time we reach our first birthday. As technology advances make it easier and cheaper to store and access data electronically, more and more of these archives are established and maintained in databases online, rather than in file folders in a physical file drawer somewhere in a bureaucratic basement.

As we mature, other information is added to our basic birth history; most of us get a driver's license, or a state identification card, as a basic tool for proving we are who we say we are. Most of us obtain one or more credit cards, so that we can establish a credit history, which will allow us later to quality for loans to purchase cars and houses, and other items that most of us normally can't purchase with cash. We go to the doctor, and establish a medical history. We go to school and obtain degrees, or certificates of competence. We work for employers who then become a part of our employment history. We join clubs, volunteer for various organizations, buy goods online, voice our political opinions, receive traffic tickets, marry and have children, and ultimately, die. In the age of the internet, the history of all of these activities exists forever, in fragments of databases scattered throughout cyberspace, in terabit upon terabit of archived files, active or abandoned transaction records, and...

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