The combination of new technology and outdated privacy laws makes it easier than ever for corporations and government agencies to monitor and collect details about your online activities. Gathering digital information is also profitable, as many businesses earn millions of dollars by keeping online data trails and selling the information they gather to the highest bidder. Is this level of intrusiveness allowed? Don't citizens have a right to online privacy?
Did Citizens Ever Have a Right to Privacy?
While many Americans believe all citizens should have a right to privacy, it’s important to note that there’s no clear-cut “right to privacy” clause in the Bill of Rights or U.S. Constitution. Current privacy laws don't prevent others from accessing your court records, tax records, property ownership information, lien information or voter registration details, as this information is public record and fairly easy to access online. Even before the internet became popular, citizens could obtain private details about a person’s life from local courthouses.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches, seizures and warrants, but this means very little in today’s modern digital age. Citizens were once concerned about the government prying into their private affairs, but today, virtually anyone can access and use your personal information without ever notifying you. Victims of identity theft, online fraud and other malicious activities often find out about the intrusion when it’s too late.
Many believe the government should update the Fourth Amendment privacy law to include computer activities and internet surveillance, but as of early 2017, there’s no sign of this amendment change in sight. Until the government steps in and adjusts its privacy laws, citizens must consider it a privilege when organizations or individuals don't collect, use, store or sell their personal data.
Protecting Your Private Information
Just a quick search for your name in Google or any search engine likely brings up a long list of companies claiming to have details about your family life, previous arrests, marital status, previous jobs and much more. Since there aren't any privacy laws in place to protect you, what should you do? First, you must consider limiting the information you share online. People don't need to know your birthday, your job location, your email address or the amount of money you make. Sharing this information makes you more susceptible to hackers and makes it easy for data collectors to store private details about your life.
Avoid entering your Social Security number online, and choose strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts. If you must use social media, adjust the privacy settings to ensure everyone doesn't have full access to your profiles. Also, never make purchases on sketchy websites. Only shop from reputable online sites with high levels of security, such as Amazon.com or eBay.
Most people don’t want to choose between using new technology and keeping their personal information private. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union work to minimize online data trails and limit the collection and sales of personal information, but until privacy laws change, there’s very little citizens can do to completely shield their private data.
Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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