Protecting privacy of communications

Protecting privacy of personal communications
Ensuring privileged communication
Personal privacy is being compromised in the digital age and there is a proliferation of equipment and devices that are routinely collecting personal data. The tolerance for a trade-off between the benefits of digitization and the cost of giving up one's privacy differs from culture to culture.

Privacy is going to become more relevant in the information age because personal information is becoming valuable to businesses. New technologies have permitted businesses to tailor their advertising, marketing and programming to suit individual taste. Businesses have an affirmative responsibility to consumers to advise them on how personal information is being used.

With smart computers, society has moved well beyond phone book privacy. Personal information - such as where a person has been - is now routinely captured, e.g. the "easy pass" device that a driver in the US installs in the car for easy transport through road tolls.

In a world where networks are geared to collecting information, consumers who want to opt out have few choices. For example, Net surfers who want to reject "cookies" often find themselves blocked from the site. They have to take active steps if they wish to protect their privacy. Computer manufacturers and software providers have unique identifiers embedded in their products (examples, Intel's Pentium III chips and Windows '98). Although these are meant to combat computer viruses, the manufacturers often put the onus on users who want to guard their privacy to download the deactivation software.

A privacy advocate and computer programmer in the USA has written an application entitled PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), which uses the technology of "public key cryptography". It enable people to communicate securely with people they have never met without the prior exchange of keys or codes over secure channels The communicated data are mixed together in a nonsensical jumble of random data. The code can be broken, but only by months of high-powered investigative computer work.

PGP works by encrypting information using a person's "public key", a small block of scrambled and condensed text. In addition, each person has their own private (secret) key, which is mathematically related to their public key. A person distributes their public key to those with whom they want private communication. A communicant uses the public key of the intended recipient to encrypt messages. The message encrypted using their public key can only be decrypted with the private key.

PGP is so good that the US government prosecutors launched a grand jury investigation of its quthor in 1994. It is still reaching its conclusion in 1997. The argument is that he may have violated the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations by uploading copies of PGP to bulletin board systems which can then be accessed by people from all over the world.

1. People are participating in their own surveillance when they knowingly use devices that allow personal information to be electronically transferred to another party. An example is the pacemaker that allows a heart patient to communicate his medical information to his doctor by simply placing the phone near to the device.

2. It is a "very American view" to treat privacy as a "commodity" whose cost and benefit can be traded off. Europeans, on the other hand, tend to regard privacy as an inalienable right, and European governments are taking steps to protect privacy of personal data. Cross-national and cross-cultural differences on the issue of privacy are very real and a regulatory framework is going to be necessary to protect privacy.

Counter Claim:
1. It is a paradox that most people regard their privacy as sacred but would in their everyday behaviour act as if they do not care about giving up personal information. They would, for example, willingly submit personal data just to take part in a sweepstake or to get a discount card.
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities