Protection of Privacy and Freedom of Information in the Electronic Communications Sector
With the growth in social, political and economic importance of the Internet, it has been recognized that the underlying technology of the next generation Internet must not only meet the many technical challenges but must also meet the social expectations and the code of ethics of such an invasive technology.
Let's begin with a sense of the problem. Imagine that one day your bank or telephone company puts all of your transaction or phone records up on a Web site for the world to see. Imagine, more realistically, that the company without your permission simply sells your records to another company, for use in the latter's marketing efforts
We would all agree that posting anyone’s personal information without his/her approval and permission to the Web is undesirable. Many people would also object this behavior and would consider it as a human right harassment and a sale of one’s personal and private information.
The basic idea is that the reputation and sales of companies will suffer if they offend customers' desires about protecting privacy. An opposite institutional approach would rely on government enforcement. Another idea is that enforcement of mandatory legal rules would deter companies from abusing people's privacy.
Assuming that there can be significant problems in the protection of personal information, the next question is to ask what institutions in society should be relied upon to address such problems. This paper examines the protection of privacy and freedom of information in the electronic communications sector.
Today we face a special urgency in deciding how to use markets, self-regulation, and government enforcement to protect the privacy and freedom of information in the electronic communications sector.
There is a widespread and accurate sense that a greater amount of personal information is being assembled in databases, and that more and more people have the computer and telecommunications resources to access and manipulate that personal information. The economics and technologies underlying use of personal information are fundamentally changing. These changes, in turn, make it mandatory to change the institutional arrangements governing the use of personal information.
The protection of privacy and freedom of information in the electronic communications sector arises in a wide and growing range of industries. A partial listing might include: health records; credit history; banking transactions, cable, and other video records; records of an Internet service provider; and purchases made through the internet.
Along with the internet boom, a new generation of electronic privacy problems has emerged, for several reasons1:
1. An increasing number of transactions are conducted electronically.
2. It has become easier and cheaper to collect, store, access, match, and redistribute information about transactions and individuals
3. Wireless transmission conduits include unsecured portions.
4. The number of communications carriers and service providers has grown enormously, leading to an increasingly open network system in which information about use and user is exchanged as part of network interoperability.
5. The Internet computer network system is wide open.
1E. Gruen, "Defining the Digital Consumer IV Agenda: Digital Kids Pre-Conference Seminar," New York, NY
In consequence, new electronic privacy problems keep emerging. Recent controversies include:
1. Intrusive telemarketing.
2. Data collection about transactions.
3. The ability of governments to control encryption.
4. The ability to determine an incoming caller's phone number and use of such information.
5. The monitoring of wireless mobile communications.
6. Employers' monitoring of their employees.
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