Ethics of Priivacy and Surveillance

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discuss such delicate issues, we have to question ourselves, “What exactly is privacy?” Privacy is defined as “the right to be let alone” (Warren & Brandeis, 1890). However, privacy is not such a simple concept. For ease of understanding, privacy, in this essay, is the ability of an individual or group to seclude information about themselves and to possess the right to retain anonymous.

Privacy can be generally broken down into three categories - physical, organizational and informational (Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 2008). Possessing privacy is not just about preventing "intrusions into one's physical space or solitude” (Smith, 1994). Instead, rapid advances in technology have propelled the safeguarding of privacy to the next level. In this information age, where the society has become open and fluid, one’s zone of privacy has considerably diminished with each passing technological innovation. This is evidently illustrated in the case of consumer privacy.

The systematic loss of privacy for consumers can be divided into the database phase and the network phase. Precisely because it is so efficient and effortless to gather, store and transfer abundant amount of information, consumers’ privacy are being eroded rapidly. Through public records sold by government agencies, telephone or mail orders, memberships or warranty cards, companies are able to build a data profile of each individual with ease. However, what is more frightening is that this information may be collected without consumers’ knowledge, through tracking devices like cookies.

It is suggested that an individual’s personal information is his private property, according to some legal scholars such as Trotter Hardy, who supports this argument using John Locke’s “labour-desert” as well as Jeremy Bentham justification based on utilitarianism (The Ancient Doctrine of Trespass to Web Sites, 2008). Richard Spinello also agrees that, by giving individuals such property rights, the society...
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