Today a profound shift in the privacy equation is under way. Technology brings enormous efficiency to the collection, sorting and distribution of personal information. This efficiency has revolutionized countless organizations but it has also increased opportunities for snooping. The ability of computers to sift though personal information may make much of your life an open book, unless privacy policies are implemented.
In many countries a large number of records are public, available to anyone.
In the United States, for example, public records typically include voter registration lists, Department of Motor Vehicle records, federal tax liens, arrest and conviction records, court proceedings and judgments, bankruptcy and probate records, and lists of births, deaths and marriage licenses. Additional information is available in commercial directories and databases, including phone books, city directories, professional directories and newspaper databases. Many records that we think are confidential today such as credit reports, income-tax records, social security records, loan applications, bank account records, credit card records, Telephone Company records, military records and medical records may not be confidential tomorrow. If a curious neighbor wants to know something about you, it takes some expense and effort but with the rise of computer databases and the Internet, it’s getting easier to correlate information and develop a profile of somebody.
Already, some companies are beginning to offer services that collect personal information and sell it on CD-ROMs or online. Take police reports, for example, they are public.
The Internet will make this kind of information extraordinarily public, unless the rules change.
The way to protect privacy in this age of information technology is to develop respect for the privacy of personal information. We shouldn’t ban the collection of legitimate information or deny organizations the benefit of databases. Sharing information can be appropriate in some commercial settings. Many consumers appreciate having products and services tailored to their individual needs or profiles, as long as their privacy isn’t unduly compromised. But to protect privacy, access should be denied to people who don’t have a legitimate reason for the information they seek.
A nosy neighbor shouldn’t be able to check your credit rating.
Society must define the appropriate purposes for specific kinds of information and fashion ways to confine the use of the information to those purposes. It won’t be easy, but it is possible. Individuals and organizations can do their part by making the protection of privacy an important objective. As people wake up to how much information about them is stored on computers and how it can be used, the issue of privacy will command more and more the attention from the powers that be.
The privacy concerns of the Lotus and Equifax “MarketPlace: Households” mailing lists consisted of true product dissemination and how it would be controlled, resale of the data and would consumers be able to delete their names from the database or make corrections before hitting the market? There were also concerns that not everyone in the database had agreed to participate.
These were certainly legitimate regards of the consumers. It’s clearly a control issue and scary to think that a stranger is controlling how your personal information is used. In lieu of so much criticism Lotus and Equifax canceled the product.