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Front Page » January 14, 2014 » Opinion » The privacy puzzle
Published 314 days ago

The privacy puzzle


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

It seems everyone is upset with the National Security Agency about the fact they have records of literally every phone call you ever made since they started gathering information a few years ago. This kind of a threat could be catastrophic to citizens rights and may infringe on constitutional rights.

But to me more of a threat is what is happening in the private sector, and the ways people can get information about anyone, in a myriad of ways.

The list of what can go wrong is long, but lets basically state right now that each person's privacy is under attack daily. It is easy for people to find out anything about you from your credit score to what you like to eat in your favorite restaurant. And unfortunately, each of us has given those people that information ourselves.

Building a profile about an individual by anyone is like putting together a puzzle. There are bits and pieces all over the place that a person can pull together. And of course we all worry about that. But some of the biggest pieces of the puzzle that an individual can assemble on us, we put out there ourselves.

The internet is a wonderful tool that has revolutionized almost everything from making furrows straight in a wheat field to operating security in a home. It allows us to get information, send information and gather information. It lets people talk to people both with voice and picture, something many of us dreamt of as kids. It allows people to interact on games, social sites and in business.

But because of all those uses and its proliferation, almost everything about us is on the net somewhere. We put information about ourselves on it when we fill out forms for various commercial operations or retail sales. We put daily material up about our lives, our families, our dreams and plans. We use it for work, for shipping information and even products. Governmental agencies put a lot of their records on the Internet, some of which you need special permission to access, others you do not. Most public records are now on the Internet. In fact there is a bill that is being put into the state legislature in the next session which would restrict information from voting recordsthat is now on the internet and open to all. That site lists a lot of information about individuals who are registered and many feel this should not be open to everyone. The fact is, however, that it always has been open to the public, but one had to literally go to the state to get the list. Now it is just more easily accessible than it has ever been before.

But beyond the Internet there are also a lot more questions about where privacy is headed. New technology in just about every field of endeavor is making strides that could leak over into people's personal lives. A good example is the proliferation of drones. While small drone aircraft could fly right up to your window with a camera or take pictures of you in your fenced back yard, there are also ground drones that can crawl into places. In fact researchers are working to perfect drones that will look like insects that can fly inside a house or a car and transmit back information. For all we know they probably already exist.

I think personal privacy will be one of the biggest issues that we will deal with in the next decade, maybe the biggest. We will have to consider how much we want other people to know about us. We will have to consider how much we want the government to know about each individual and how that plays into the security of our country. And each time some terrible human caused event happens, will we tend to tighten the screws and force a little more liberty out of the fruit of freedom and into the glass of safety?

Personally, being a journalist and writing columns about my life puts a lot of what I am out there. It's the same with Facebook and other entities on the Internet. I have always assumed what I put on there can and will be seen by others besides those that are in my group or are friends.

The fact is that if you want to protect information about yourself, you as an individual need to think before posting, filling out a form or using your credit card to buy something. Photos that you put on the Internet or even send as email can be as revealing as written information.

The future may bring a lot of things our way, hopefully a lot of good things. But one of those things may be the loss of anonymity, and not everyone likes that idea.

To combat the loss of privacy, new laws will need to be passed, and strictly enforced. Constitutional rights will have to be evaluated and possibly reevaluated in a different way.

This issue will certainly test the strength of a Republic that prides itself on individual rights.

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January 14, 2014
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