An Analytical Essay on Online Privacy
To keep up with this modern age, we have to reside in two
worlds simultaneously; the offline /real world and the online/ digital world. These
two worlds are interconnected in such a way that information provided in digital
world can have a profound impact on a person’s personal life, and vice-versa. Therefore,
protecting our digital information vigilantly has become a matter of utmost
importance for everyone.
In this essay, we will be discussing what we mean by the
term ‘privacy’ in the context of the digital world, importance of protecting
digital information and possible measures for ensuring digital privacy.
Privacy/ Digital Privacy/ User Profiling
Privacy is a broad and controversial topic that has been
studied by philosophers throughout history. Even though there are several law
and amendments that underlined the concept of privacy but there was nothing
specific which protected an individual’s right to privacy. During the 1890’s,
Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis from the United States of America, both
educated in the field of law, published a paper called the “Right to Privacy”.
This influential article revolutionised the idea of privacy and demanded that
with the change of society, politics and economy, the legal rights should
change too (Quinn, 2013). Defining privacy has been difficult for philosophers,
some has defined privacy as a “zone of inaccessibility” while others defined it
as a “right to be alone”. But irrespective of the differences in definition
majority of philosophers believe that “privacy” is a prudential right of every
The concept of privacy in the digital world implies the
privacy of information or data. While digital privacy is concerned with
the privacy of
digital information in general, in many contexts it specifically refers to
information concerning personal
identity shared over public networks. The term ‘Information Privacy’
was first used in the field of IT by the director of Australian Privacy
Foundation, Roger Clarke (Reynolds, 2014).
In the context of Australia, the government owned
organisation called the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner is
responsible for protecting and monitoring digital privacy. The Privacy Acts that
has been passed since 1998 protects Australian citizens from any individual or
organisation, accessing or trying to access their personal information by
unlawful means (without consent) (OAIC, 2017). These privacy acts include
information that is both on paper and digital.
Even though there are several privacy laws in place, preservation
of digital material is far more complex and difficult.
Loss of Online
Privacy and Threats/ Comparing Legislation on Online Privacy
Even though there are several privacy laws in place,
preservation of digital material is far more complex and difficult. Because
digital materials are basically made up of simple binary states, it is possible
to copy and store them in a wide range of both physical and digital media, which
raises a lot of security issues.
Also, certain organisations, which include both private and
government owned have found “loopholes” and have used them to work around the
laws and acquire information of an individual without his/her knowledge or
consent. Although back in 2014, presently Australian Prime Minister Malcom
Turnbull and communication minister at that time has assured that the
government only retains metadata of an individual’s IP addresses and not web
addresses, scepticism and debate regarding that issue persists till now. (abc
2014). In both USA and Australia similar issues have been raised for debate
where data privacy of individuals are been accessed by different organisations.
From social media websites to telecom companies, even though
several data privacy laws exist there are grey areas which needs to be
addressed by lawmakers. Organisations store client information and pass them on
third parties or generate additional information by the process of data
mining(quinn,2013) Few examples are as follows: –
Case Study 1
Telecom companies often follow opt-out policy when it comes
to accessing and sharing client database with third parties. Opt-in policy
involves a client or user directly giving permission to share his/her personal
information such as name, address, date of birth, contact number etc. Opt-out
policy on the other hand does not require an individual using the service to
provide permission(Quinn,2013). Therefore, companies who follow an opt-out
policy might be violating the data privacy of their clients to certain extent.
Not only private companies but also government surveillance
agencies have come under the spotlight for breaking data/information privacy.
Government surveillance companies often use counter-terrorism issues to defend
such breach of data privacy (Reynolds,2014). Such issues along with data
retention issues have been brought in public forums and in the mainstream media
Several cyber security consultancy firms such as IBM
provides advice and services that protects digital information of individuals
and companies. We can also protect our individual data privacy by being
cautious about our internet use, passwords and ID’s. (Data Guardian,2017)
Case Study 2
After the death of Eric Rash, access to his Facebook account
was not allowed to his father, Ricky Rash who was pursuing reasons behind the
death of his deceased son. This case of the Rash family gives us a new
perspective to look at the issue of Data Privacy of Information Privacy.
It leads to the topic of ‘Data Legacy’. Data Legacy is when
an individual specifies the fate of his digital asset (information on Facebook
accounts, google and iCloud anything related to that individual) in the form of
a will. Data legacy is gaining attention in both USA and Australia due to
lawyers who are now creating awareness about a digital estate and digital
assets. Some kin who receives the inheritance of the digital asset will be its
From the above case studies, what we can concur is that data
privacy is a very sensitive issue which needs to be addressed with more
importance than it is given. Legislators should pass new and improved laws to
protect the privacy of digital information. More strict laws and measures
should be passed against individuals and organisations who use digital data without
consent, so as to prevent them from doing so.
In this purpose, more awareness can be spread to make sure
most people understand how their information is being used with or without
their consent. Individuals should also play roles in protecting their own
privacy, especially in social platforms such as Facebook, Google and iCloud. Strong
passwords, customization of public contents, carefulness while using public
computers etc. can play a key role in
protecting personal information online.
In conclusion, from a social aspect I believe Online Privacy
is a major issue, provided the expanded use of technological advancements and
the internet in this era. Case studies as mentioned in this essay will provide
us with a picture that shows how there are two extremes when it comes to data
privacy. The grey areas should be studied by lawmakers and IT experts in depth
to solve and prevent issues with violation of an individual’s or a company’s
data privacy. Law enforcement and surveillance agencies should follow correct
procedures such as obtaining warrants and informing the suspect under
investigation. Privacy of digital information is a very sensitive issue that
involves all our lives. Even though there are more people who are aware of
their digital security than before it should be taken very seriously by every
individual, private and government organisations.