The concern about privacy on the Internet is increasingly becoming an issue of international dispute. ?Citizens are becoming concerned that the most intimate details of their daily lives are being monitored, searched and recorded.? (www.britannica.com) 81% of Net users are concerned about threats to their privacy while online. The greatest threat to privacy comes from the construction of e-commerce alone, and not from state agents.E-commerce is structured on the copy and trade of intimate personal information and therefore, a threat to privacy on the Internet.
The Internet?s leading advertising company, DoubleClick, Inc. compiled thorough information on the browsing routine of millions of users. They accomplished this by implementing ?cookie? files onto computer hard drives. These cookies enable Web sites and advertising networks to observe people?s on-line activities with great precision.
Cookies also include the search vocabulary entered as well as the articles one reads over, and the amount of time one spends looking at a particular article. Convinced that their actual identities were not being made public, consumers were pleased to accept this in exchange for the ease of navigating the web more efficiently. ?In November 1999 DoubleClick bought Abacus Direct, which held a database of names, addresses, and information about the offline buying habits of 90 million households compiled from the largest direct-mail catalogs and retailers in the nation.? (www.britannica.com)
Following the purchase of Abacus two months later, DoubleClick began compiling profiles that linked an individual?s actual name and address to Abacus?s complete records of their on-line and off-line purchases. This turned shopping that was once thought to be anonymous, into personally identifiable records.
The American Management Association conducted a survey of nearly a thousand large companies and found that more than half the large American firms surveyed monitored the Internet relations of their workers. Several of these companies used Orwellian computer software that was initially offered for only $99 and had the ability to screen and record every keystroke on the computer with video like precision. It is also possible for the firms to screen all incoming and outgoing e-mail for forbidden words and phrases- such as those involving racism, or the name of a boss. Suspicious messages would then be forwarded to a supervisor for review.
Globally Unique Identifiers, or GUIDS make it possible to link every file, e-mail communication, and on-line chat room posting with the real-world identity of the person who created it. The unease for this issue is also growing. GUIDs are a kind of serial number that can be connected with a person?s name and e-mail address when he registers on-line for merchandise or service.
One of the most popular Internet music players, RealJukebox was recognized in November 1999 by privacy advocates when they realized that the music each user downloaded could pinpoint a user?s identity by matching it with a unique identification number. There were even various software products such as Microsoft Word 97 and PowerPoint 97, which implanted distinct identifiers into every document.
?Americans increasingly seem to agree that Congress should save them from the worst excesses of online profiling.? (www.britannica.com) A poll conducted in March for Business Week magazine showed that 57% of the respondents said that the government should pass laws that modify how personal information could be collected and used on the Internet. The attempt to pass complete privacy legislation in the United States has been disturbed by the fact that those who will benefit from privacy are scattered while the corporate opponents of privacy are well organized.
ZeroKnowledge.com is a privacy-enhancing technology that allows individuals to browse the web and send e-mails anonymously or pseudonymously in order for people to cover electronic tracks. Genuine Privacy Enhancing Technologies limit or eliminate the collection of personally identifiable information.
It is quite cheap and fairly easy to accumulate thorough information about people because of the advances in computer technology. This can prove to be beneficial for law enforcement looking to track down criminals; prevention of fraud within banks, and consumers becoming more educated about new products and services. However, this also creates opportunity for misuse of such information.
Information sent over the Internet has the potential to pass through dozens of various computer systems on the way to its intended destination. ?Each of these systems may be managed by a different system operator (sysop), and each system may be capable of capturing and storing online communications.? (www.privacyrights.org) It is possible for the online activities of Internet users to be monitored, both by their own service provider and by the system operator of any sites on the Internet that may capture them. ?There are virtually no online activities or services that guarantee an absolute right of privacy.?(www.privacyrights.org)
If the communication is ?readily accessible? according to federal law it is not considered illegal for anyone to view or release the information to the public. This applies to the many online activities that are open to public inspection. Public messages on the Internet may be accessed by anyone at anytime even years after the original message has been written.
The federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act makes it illegal for anyone to examine or release the contents of an electronic correspondence. This law refers to e-mail messages. There do exist, however, three significant exceptions.
The first is if there is suspicion that the sender is attempting to damage the system or harm another user. The second is if the correspondent or receiver consents to inspection or disclosure of the document(s). The third exception states that if the employer owns the e-mail system, then the employer may examine the contents of employee e-mail on the system. A court-ordered search warrant is required for law enforcement officials to access electronic communications.
It should not be assumed that service account information is kept private. Member directories are provided by many services, which publicly lists all subscribers to the service. Membership lists may also be sold from the service provider to direct marketers.
Many web sites deposit data about an individual?s visit onto his own hard drive while he is surfing the web. This data is called cookies. When the user returns to that site the cookies reveal that he has been there before and may offer products or ads based on the cookies data that has been retrieved.
A potentially valuable source for profits for online services is enclosed within the records of subscribers browsing patterns or transaction-generated information. Marketers utilize this data to develop highly targeted lists of online users with related likes and behaviors. It is possible for online services to interfere with the memory of home computers signing onto the service. Personal files have been copied and collected by the online services in some cases.
Another major concern within computer security is electronic attacks by computer hackers on government and business computers. A case in Massachusetts occurred in March 2000 where a boy was charged with having caused airport-control-tower computers to be out of service for six hours. There was also another case in April 2000 in which a man was arrested for having broken into a NASA web site and caused more than $70,000 worth of damage.
In July of 2000 two California teenagers pleaded guilty to juvenile delinquency charges after they accessed computers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and
the U.S. Air Force. This attack raised government fears because it indicated the effectiveness of a well-organized and systematic hacker attack. The huge scope of the Internet worried some government officials, who saw unfettered Internet gambling as a threat to society.
The computer industry has developed a tool called encryption, which scrambles electronic information so that it is difficult to interpret by anyone else. ?Citing the dangers of Internet crime and terrorism, the federal government wants the tools to crack each individual?s encryption code.? (www.aclu.org) Confidentiality, ambiguity and protection in the digital world are dependant upon encryption.
Encryption techniques jumble sensitive information so that it can only be converted with a key code- a passkey that unlocks the scrambled electronic data. Encryption can also be used to generate distinctive ?digital signatures? that validate the real identity of the correspondent and are at the heart of protected electronic trade.
Even though it may seem immediate, an e-mail message travels from one?s computer to several computer hosts across the world before finally reaching its destination. At every stopping point, it could be intercepted and examined by anyone who has right of entry to those mediator computer hosts. These intrusions may be confined by encryption.
In order to avoid absorption of the cost of creating two versions of encryption- one for domestic sale, and one for foreign, the U.S. companies that produce encryption software distribute only weak encryption in this country. These codes lack efficiency in protecting privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) believes that
government control of cryptography code keys is unconstitutional. ?If encryption is speech then being required to give your key code to the government is a form of forced, or compelled, speech, which is prohibited by the First Amendment.?(www.aclu.org) In a case in June 1997, Reno vs. ACLU, the Supreme Court ruled that online speech is entitled to the same First Amendment protection as printed speech.
It is necessary for the battle for privacy to be fought on many fronts such as legal, political, and technological. The Internet presents many benefits in the lives of patrons. However, as it is seen, it may bring new threats to personal privacy. Any cyberspace users should be aware of the potential of the invasion of privacy and should thoroughly inspect new services before moving further.
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