Debates regarding technology and its potentially invasive effects on the individual’s privacy have become a great concern in the 21st century. In 2001, America was stricken with the horrific events of 9/11, where a series of coordinated terrorist attacks killed thousands of people. The effects stretched beyond New York and turned America’s strength and confidence into fear. In response, the U.S. government initiated a series of acts to increase security and protect America from terrorists. In particular, the Patriot Act was designed to “detect and disrupt terrorist threats” with the use of “new tools”.1 These tools, such as biometric face scanning, satellite spying, tracking devices, and wiretapping mechanisms are the latest revolutions in technology. The technological advances are used to detect unlawful acts throughout the nation, including the police force, casinos, and in public areas. This is where technology can potentiallybecome intrusive and interfere with the right to privacy, which can be defined as “a state of being free from unauthorized intrusion”.2 The right to privacy is not mentioned explicitly in the text of the Constitution although in 1890 Justice Louis Brandeis did promote an individual’s “right to be left alone”. Recently, the right to privacy has become more narrowly defined because limitations in its definition allow the government to be, arguably, more empowered in protecting its citizens. Individuals are concerned about what personal information has entered the public domain, and how that information is used.The convergence of technology with the Internet has allowed the world to connect on the information highway.3 The Internet has linked individuals through online networks, which have organized humans worldwide based upon affiliations, characteristics, and desires. These networks often require users to provide one’s name, address, email, demographics, financial information, and identification numbers, which are often provided to third parties for marketing purposes. The information leakage that occurs to third party vendors is an ongoing concern of the general public.
The rise of the Internet has created and enhanced business opportunities worldwide. Online market-makers like eBay, online banks, and numerous other players participate in e-business. Online banks allow customers to more efficiently pay bills, check accounts, and transfer money. The positive aspects are endless, but the business has not developed without problems. The threat of fraud and identity theft created by the potentially unsecured flow of personal information has become a costly epidemic. The outbreak of identity theft has also been an impetus for right-to-privacy legislation, which requires that the flow of personal information be protected more thoroughly.
Advancements in technology have stood as some of the most enormous progressive movements our society has witnessed. The students of the Leeds School’ graduating class of 2007 has dedicated their last semester to familiarizing themselves with these issues and their effects on privacy. In each area of research, students have conducted interviews and compiled survey and experimental results to provide a first-hand encounter with each topic. The purpose of our studies is to introduce the advancements in technology, discuss their purpose and explain why they represent a growing concern for privacy.
It is of the utmost importance that society becomes more aware of the implications of technology, so that the individual can protect her personal information. In the health care industry, patients are concerned that their private medical records are subject to public exposure, which may result in a variety of problems. To thwart these problems, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which became effective in July, 1997. HIPAA is a “grouping of regulations that seek to combat waste, fraud, and abuse in health care delivery and health insurance”,4 and is an example of the recognition of a problem and the adjustments made to solve it. Perhaps, a positive incorporation of HIPAA will lead to more changes that can better incorporate technology, so that it does not impede on individuals’ privacy. Gandhi said it best when he addressed the people of India: “We must be the changes we wish to see.” 5
For the editorial committee
1 United States of America: Patriot Act. 2001, 2005
2 Webster, Merriam. Definition 15c. Collegiate Dictionary. 10th edition. 1998
3 Friedman, Thomas L. The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. New York, NY.