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Advocates of technologies like radio frequency identification tags say their potentially life-saving benefits far outweigh any Orwellian concerns about privacy. RFID tags sewn into clothing or even embedded under people's skin could curb identity theft, help identify disaster victims and improve medical care, they say.
Critics, however, say such technologies would make it easier for government agencies to track a person's every movement and allow widespread invasion of privacy. Abuse could take countless other forms, including corporations surreptitiously identifying shoppers for relentless sales pitches. Critics also speculate about a day when people's possessions will be tagged, allowing nosy subway riders with the right technology to examine the contents of nearby purses and backpacks.
Protecting email communications may seem like a no brainer. After all, it is illegal in most jurisdictions to eavesdrop on telephone conversations or to open another person's mail.
However, the concept that the protection offered to these forms of private communication has been extended to email was severely harmed in a recent decision by the US Courts. Read More.
According to a recent report byWired, a federal appeals court in Massachusetts recently ruled that Bradford C. Councilman, president of Interloc, a company that sold rare and out-of-print books to booksellers and provided customers with free e-mail accounts, did not break the law when he copied and read e-mail messages sent to customers through his server. Upholding a lower-court decision that the provider did not violate the Wiretap Act, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a precedent for e-mail service providers to legally read e-mail that passes through their network. Read More.
According to a 2001 survey by the American Management Association, more than 75 percent of U.S. firms record and review employee communications and activities on the job.
But companies are not just watching employees online. More than 37 percent of companies said they participate in video surveillance for security purposes, and 7.8 percent store and review employee voice-mail messages. Forty-three percent monitor employees' telephone use, including time spent on the phone and which numbers have been called. Read More.
In Tulsa, a woman picks up a lipstick from a discount-store display. In Cincinnati, more than 700 miles away, a team of researchers watches her turn the box over in her hands then set it on the shelf next to the display before selecting another shade. Before she walks away, they make a note of the color she rejected, and the one she put in her shopping basket.
In Cambridge, England, a display holding razor blades conceals a small camera that takes pictures whenever anyone slides out a package of blades. A tracking device embedded in the package also triggers cameras at the register and the door.
This isn't a George Orwell story. It's recent history. Each of these incidents happened. And as merchants, employers and governments perfect surreptitious surveillance, the practice could become commonplace. It's time to get control of this new technology, before it becomes a tool to control us.
At every stage of the buying game, consumers trade privacy for convenience and low prices. The use of credit and debit cards creates a detailed record of past transactions. Internet sites monitor clicks and page views. Cameras monitor the ebb and flow of traffic in a retail store. Read it here.
The Bush administration stepped into a lawsuit challenging California's landmark financial privacy law Wednesday, urging a federal judge to side with banks that want to overturn restrictions on how they can share customer information.
The new state law requires financial institutions to get permission from customers before giving nonaffiliated companies customers' financial information such as their bank balance or spending habits. Read all about it. [requires registration]
Here's an earlier story.
The American Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable and the Consumer Bankers Association have gone to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to try to stop a California law that restricts how they can use customer information.
The outcome of their appeal, filed Aug. 2, will decide the fate of the strictest state privacy law on the books, and the crucial issue of whether federal law preempts such state laws. Read More.
With each new terror update, the tension between security and privacy grows tauter. It seems nuts, in this period of potential helicopter and limo hijackings, to say that government should not engage in every conceivable means of surveillance that might yield any information whatsoever about possible terrorist activity. But the sticky aspect of life in this free country is, the government really isnâ€™t supposed to do that. The feds face limits on how far they can snoop, because otherwise democracy starts to look like totalitarianism. Read More.
Privacy advocates have forced the government to abandon a program designed to keep terrorists off of planes. Even as the Bush administration warns of an imminent terror attack, it is again allowing the ''rights'' brigades to dictate the parameters of national defense. The administration just cancelled a passenger screening system designed to keep terrorists off planes, acceding to the demands of ''privacy'' advocates. The implications of this for airline safety are bad enough. But the program's demise also signals a return to a pre-9/11 mentality, when pressure from the rights lobbies trumped security common sense. Read all about it.
In spite of the promise of 9/11 commission Chair Tom Kean that the 9/11 report "will make the American people safer," civil liberties groups say some of those ideas could jeopardize the personal privacy of millions of Americans in the name of enhancing security. The commission recommends that the federal government set national standards for issuing birth certificates and driverâ€™s licenses. Read More.