Rarely does a university class undertake a project as thought provoking and complex as writing a book about the topic of the course. The book you have in your hand results from just such an endeavor. The topic for a senior business core curriculum course at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Privacy and Technology, posed interesting issues for study and research. Although the students in the class had been using various technologies since they were small children, most of them had not considered the serious concerns we face when electronic communication and other technologies intersect with our daily lives.
Such everyday activities as buying groceries, sending email, visiting a doctor or dentist, and getting on an airplane became topics for close scrutiny as the students considered how technologies both assist us, as in security screening before getting on a commercial flight, and hassle us, as in those same security screening sessions when we must take off our shoes, our jackets, our watches, and submit our personal belongings to the rubber gloved screening personnel. Although the screening may protect us, it also removes a layer of personal privacy. Other issues, such as how personal information and buying habits have become new currency for commercial exchange, when credit cards, grocery club cards, or website "cookies" are used, became topics of intense research and discussion. Why, these students asked, is this information that we consider private, not to be violated, and not to be disseminated, now distributed widely and used by marketers to keep track of buying trends in general and, more specifically, of our personal purchases? Who gave the marketers the right to collect our personal information?
Many controversies surround the use of technologies for communication, research, health, security, commerce, and future planning. These students, who selected the wide variety of topics discussed in this book, also found themselves questioning not only the technologies, but also trying to understand themselves and their relationships with technologies. Why, they wondered, did they continue to buy products online, knowing full well that the online store was keeping track of them, their purchases, the frequency with which they buy, how much money they spent, and so on-to the extent that when they go to the store's website, they are greeted by name and offered a selection of products-all based on the records kept by the technologies involved. Whose business is this anyway?
Other privacy issues were even more worrisome, such as medical records, which are now being digitized and disseminated, and are often stored overseas in databases managed by foreign employees of foreign contractors in foreign countries with few to no privacy regulations. The students found themselves involved in deep layers of meta-cognition, thinking about themselves as they were thinking, trying to resolve why they, understanding this privacy loss, would continue to allow such invasion of their privacy, and what they might do about it.
On another level, the student authors used technology to examine technology. They used computers and electronic library databases to do research on computer use and electronic databases. The students used their computers as they wrote and revised drafts of their chapters, and they collaborated online through email and other computer protocols to examine the use of technologies from electronic voting machines to smart cards and security cameras. Security cameras kept track of them as they wrote about the loss of privacy to invasive security cameras. The complexities continued to amaze the students as they uncovered data, and managed it.
In addition, the students not only paired off to research, discuss, and write the chapters, but they also divided into larger teams in order to learn how to maintain and manage structural consistency within the various topics and chapters, to revise and edit the 20-page two-member team papers that were to become the chapters, to file for copyright, to obtain an ISBN number, to plan the publishing budget, and to prepare the documents for the printer. As a result, these students learned not only about theoretical implications of technology as it relates to personal privacy, but they also engaged fully with the technology in assessing the issues discussed in these chapters. Furthermore, they are now equipped with new skills as they enter the workforce, knowing how to think about and approach a publication and to actually produce it, skills that many of these young business men and women will find quite useful in their future careers. And, if their future publications are to be electronic, they are well prepared to publish online as well.
Thus, this highly unusual writing and publishing project challenged the students to think critically about technology, society, and the relationship various technologies have to an individual's right to privacy. Dr. Kai Larsen, the Professor who designed this project and who invited me to participate as a writing mentor, is to be commended for recognizing that students often learn best by doing, especially when the stakes are high. Having one's name on a chapter in a book of this sort, which will become a reference for future classes, is a credit, and a responsibility. The students who worked so diligently and professionally to produce this book have learned to think carefully about the implications of technologies, to consider how they're thinking about themselves as they ponder their relationships with technology, and to use a variety of technologies to examine their chosen topics.
Privacy issues will most likely continue to be contentious, as technology can easily be used as a tool for invasion. The chapters in this book discuss those issues, they provide insight and opinions, and in certain cases, they propose solutions for major problems an individual may encounter when his or her identity is stolen through the use of electronic technology, or when biometrics fail to secure private medical information, or when electronic voting machines can be used to manipulate election returns. As you read these chapters, consider yourself and the technologies with which you constantly interact. How safe is your privacy?
Anne Bliss, Ph.D.
Program for Writing and Rhetoric
University of Colorado at Boulder
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