Privacy in a Digital World
Everyday, technology makes our lives a little bit easier. But it also means our private information is a little bit more visible to the world.
In our digital world, privacy is no longer just the "right to be left alone", the basis of many existing laws. Privacy has taken on an extended meaning - the ability to protect personal information that is vital to the security of both family and corporate life.
Suddenly, we are able to communicate to millions, sometimes inadvertently, with a few clicks of a mouse. Anyone with the right software can write a blog, e-mails can be sent and forwarded to numerous people at a time. We can browse, shop, and buy from e-tailers in the privacy of our own homes.
But, we also leave a digital trail. Our Internet use can be monitored and our e-mail can be tracked. Our personal information can be stored, and even leaked. Spyware and malware can enter our computers, leaving any actions we take able to be viewed by criminals around the world.
"As thinking and writing increasingly take place in cyberspace, the part of our life that can be monitored and searched has vastly expanded.On the Internet, every website we visit, every store we browse in, every magazine we skim, and the amount of time we spend skimming it, create electronic footprints that can be traced back to us," writes Jeffrey Rosen, in his book on the destruction of privacy, The Unwanted Gaze.
Modern privacy laws may soon expand to reflect our highly monitored online world. U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is calling for the creation of a privacy bill of rights to secure consumers' protection.
The Privacy Rights and Oversight for Electronic and Commercial Transaction (PROTECT) Act, and the Debit and Check Card Consumer Protection Act are both pieces of legislation that Senator Clinton has introduced as part of a comprehensive privacy agenda.
"Identity theft and the theft of our personal information is out of control. No one today is safe, not even kids and young adults, as identity thieves carry out electronic muggings that can cost people cash and their credit records. That's why I am adding new provisions to the privacy bill of rights I believe every American needs," Senator Hillary Clinton, who introduced the bills, said in a press release.
The PROTECT Act will help to put power back into the hands of consumers, with security protections that will give them a say in how companies buy, sell and market their private data. The Debit and Check Card Consumer Protection Act will limit liability for people whose debit cards, check cards, or card numbers have been stolen, according to Senator Clinton's website.
Robert Atkinson, president of the pro-technology think tank, The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, feels that while there may be a need for national legislation to preempt conflicting regulations at the state level, too much legislation could have harmful affects.
"In an cross-border digital economy, it's simply unrealistic to expect the economy to be able to thrive if companies face a "tower of Babel"-like array of conflicting regulations at the state level," Atkinson told Lavasoft News. "At the same time there is a real risk of overreach at the federal level that could limit business models and impose significant compliance costs on the economy, which will ultimately be borne by consumers."
Exactly what role government will play in balancing new technology and regulation of it has yet to be finalized. What is certain is that technology in our digital world is both vital and here to stay.
"The IT revolution is responsible for all the pick up in productivity since 1996. And its central role is unlikely to diminish in the near future, unless government, instead of helping to spur IT transformation, actually works to limit it. We certainly are no more than half way through the IT revolution and we should expect to see dramatic new IT applications as well as the widespread adoption of IT through most sectors in society," Atkinson said.
1971 The first e-mail was sent by the computer engineer Ray Tomlinson
50 billion Number of e-mails sent every day
45 billion Number of e-mails from spammers
$50 billion The cost in lost productivity and expenses to fight spam in 2006
Source: The Times Online
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