Should the Government be allowed to exercise its powers in controlling and invading our Privacy?
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Ethical and Societal Issues of Information Technology 4BIM650 Should the Government be allowed to exercise its powers in controlling and invading our Privacy? Iram Sial W99192771b University of Westminster Tutor: Mike Healy Semester 1 2002/2003 Assignment 2 Word Count:2959 Introduction This essay will examine the impact Information Technology has played on the privacy of people focusing in particular on the UK, and the Governments involvement in legislating it. The privacy issue is such a wide spectrum for debate as it involves many differing types of privacy and concerns many types of Information and Communications mediums for example, surveillance, the Internet and email privacy and to name a few. It is difficult to present the whole issue, however I shall attempt to cover most topics in this essay. The developments of communication technologies have been among the most impressive in recent years. These have in result put major challenges for the protection of human rights and in particular the right to privacy. These also raise crucial social and ethical issues concerning the collection, storing, and distribution of information. Should the Government be doing more to legislate and protect their people and society? Are they legislating too much and allowing authorities and organisations undeniable and unlimited access to our details. Is this a true invasion of our privacy? The Privacy Issue and applying the Libertarian model The Civil Society, in particular non-governmental organisations such as associations of civil liberties and consumer groups, trade unions, industrialists, the liberal professions and so on have all played a part in drawing attention to this important issue of privacy. The key characteristics of a libertarian view are that firstly the focus is on civil liberties. The rights of individuals are of principal importance. Profitability and state welfare is secondary, civil liberties are to be maximised in any social choice. Other social purposes such as profitability or welfare of the state would be secondary when they conflict with the rights of the individual.
Liberalism as a revolution of rights not only meant the conquest of civil rights by society, but also their extension by constitutional means. 7 Other worsening problems of privacy are that by giving personal data to a company, they will only use the data to try and sell you products and services you may want. The other great fear is that companies would mine this data and sell it resulting in making connections that could be potentially harmful to people. A current example of this, is that Tesco with their club card scheme, allow customers to collect points when they shop whilst collating your shopping habits and recording what you buy, something which people are unaware of. The motive is to send you coupons and money off vouchers to encourage you to shop there more often. However the problem here is they have knowledge of everything you buy, so if you are buying a lot of tobacco, red meat, alcohol and so on, this could affect other services they provide, namely Insurance. The issue here is that insurance would be a problem if you ever applied, as they would not insure you due to your consumptions of the types of products mentioned. Another example if you look at the issue hypothetically is that a prospective employer could by having access to your shopping history, know your drinking habits and use this in a decision about whether to employ you. This underestimates the extent to which data mining is costly and time consuming. The most profitable use of tracking an individuals purchasing history is discovering and targeting offers to that individual based on that history, this could be through advertising new products directly to individuals. The authorities that are the problem in terms of the threat to privacy, which are the authorities of the state often come to be seen as the solution hence the backers of privacy as data protection.
It can be said that laws regarding surveillance, monitoring of emails, telephone calls, messages and so on can only do so much as to help or protect a citizen if a crime or problem arises. Also some people do feel safe in the knowledge that their country is actively doing something to prevent disasters such as terrorism. If it can be seen as a safeguard against terrorism then so be it, we do not want history to repeat itself with the horrific events of September 11 and only if these privacy laws and methods can do anything in eradicating such crime, then people should not fear and trust their respective governments. However as a human right and looking at libertarian viewpoints and freedom fighters, they would argue no matter what the circumstances, privacy is privacy and should be valued and regarded highly. Individuals should be left alone without governments and organisations having their data and using it for their own advantages. On the one hand if laws are their to protect us and we live in a country where our protection is guaranteed, we should allow the state to do all they can and if privacy laws are there to protect us then so be it. However these laws can also have diminishing effects on our futures with organisations having access to databases, medical records and criminal history which can determine what we can achieve in life and where we can get to. In a democratic society such as the UK where we are given a lot of rights, yes we would like our privacy to remain our property, as this is our basic right. However we choose to live in a country where we expect the state to do everything in their power to protect us, and if protecting us for our good involves enforcing privacy and data sharing laws, then to an extent we must accept this at the same time ensuring we are aware of what 'Big Brother' is doing.
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