Privacy seperating the facts from the hype

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Privacy Myth - Seperating the facts from the Hype

With rapid advances in information technology, society is in a transition phase on the issue of privacy and there needs to be more discussion and debate on this issue before deciding on any position. With all this attention to Privacy, does anyone ever ask the fundamental question? Why do we need Privacy? What does privacy accomplish? Does anyone ever ask what are the negative ramifications of privacy? Is the herd mentality at work again? Abika.com is a person to person search engine that enables you to search people, phone numbers, criminal records, marriage records and lots of other information through the various background check packages. Your input and your comments are greatly appreciated on the following issues.

Unrestricted flow of information is the life of democracies. Our founding fathers emphasized on the freedom of speech so that there is enough discussion and information available to people when making a choice to elect who will govern and that those who are elected stay honest and transparent and it has worked. Every decision in life is about making choices and if unrestricted flow of information has worked on the macro level it sure can work on the micro level. The more information available about people the lower the risk in dealing with other people and the better relations between people. In most instances little information is more harmful than full information. If information is widely available then facts can generally be verified through many different sources and there are less chances of inaccuracies. Human beings should be free to learn about each other as they always have been and the freedom to learn about each other is as fundamental and unalienable as any other right. Unrestricted flow of information is a great equalizer for the only way there can be a big brother institution is if information is only available to a select few. If information is widely available to everyone then there cannot be any big brother institution.

Why would someone need to keep their information private? Information only has value if it is discreet and not widely available. Besides if someone has nothing that they would be ashamed of why would they worry about privacy. Keeping people information private only creates misinformation and intolerance. Just look at authoritarian systems like communism, fascism or dictatorships. Wide dissemination of information creates a transparent, tolerant and honest society. How can someone be dishonest when there is no means by which they can hide their true selves. And why would someone have any need for hiding their true selves if there is no intolerance. Honest people have nothing to fear from the unrestricted flow of information. The more information available about people the better decisions people can make. The more information available about people the lower the risk in dealing with other people. In most instances little information is more harmful than full information. If information is widely available then facts can generally be verified through many different sources and there are less chances of inaccuracies.

One would raise the issue that they would just like to be left alone. In today's fast track world does anyone have the time to bother anyone without any special interest or motive. And if someone has a special interest no amount of restrictions are going to stop that person from getting access to information. And in all actuality only this special interest person having access to information can create more harm than good. Take for example Identity Theft. Why is there an incentive for someone to steal anyone's identity. One major reason is that they can steal the identity and gain credit and other monetary advantage. Why is it possible for thieves to use the stolen identity. Because all the information about people is not available to everyone. If creditors or employers could also have access to other information such as pictures of people, and other such identifying information it would be very difficult for thieves to use the stolen identity information..

Take the example of the Mortgage and loan industry. Do you think this industry would exist if the payment history of everyone was kept private or if there was no way of knowing the credit and payment history of an individual or business. If there was no way of recording credit and payment histories, most bankers or companies would be hesitant to loan funds, as there would be no way to make an informed decision or find out the chances of the loan getting paid.Does anyone dig deep into why is spamming so widespread in spite of all the restrictions on it. If businesses or people could accurately find out people who would be interested in their products or services, why would they waste their time, energy or money in randomly targeting others. There is no incentive for them to do so. The more people try to keep their information private the more spamming and junk mail. Besides doesn't my life become easier if others know exactly what I want. Human beings should be free to learn about each other, as they always have been. Consumers do not need a law to protect them from people trying to develop and offer goods and services.

Excerpts of Some court rulings related to this matter:



Excerpt of a ruling by 10th U.S. Circuit Court Judge Deanell Tacha:"Although we may feel uncomfortable knowing that our personal information is circulating in the world, we live in an open society where information may usually pass freely," wrote 10th Circuit Court Judge Deanell Tacha. "A general level of discomfort from knowing that people can readily access information about us does not necessarily rise to the level of a substantial state interest ... for it is not based on an identified harm," Tacha wrote.

Excerpt of a ruling by Samuel Podberesky, assistant general counsel for aviation enforcement,Privacy is not, an absolute 'personal and fundamental right ... particularly in the context of air travel," Podberesky wrote in the ruling.Excerpt of a ruling by U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st CircuitA company that provides e-mail service has the right to copy and read any message bound for its customers, a federal appeals court panel has ruled The court ruled that because e-mail is stored, even momentarily, in computers before it is routed to recipients, it is not subject to laws that apply to eavesdropping of telephone calls, which are continuously in transit. As a result, the majority said, companies or employers that own the computers are free to intercept messages before they are received by customers. In upholding a lower court decision, the appeals panel majority said Congress intended for "any temporary, intermediate storage" of communication to be governed by laws other than those involving wiretapping or other interception.

Excerpt of a ruling by Judge Kathleen M. O'Conner, Washington.In a ruling Judge Kathleen M. O'Connor of Spokane County Superior Court reckoned that the Washington privacy law does not apply to computer communications because the words of the statute do not specifically mention computers as a covered device. Excerpt of a ruling by Judge Kenneth Johnson, Indianapolis, IndianaThe great public interest in the reporting, investigation and prosecution of child abuse trumps even the patient's interest in privileged communication with her physicians because, in the end, both the patient and the state are benefited by the disclosure," Johnson wrote.
Excerpt of a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S Supreme CourtIn Doe v. Chao, coal miners claimed that in the handling of their federal black-lung benefits, their Social Security numbers were improperly released to attorneys, judges and coal company representatives. Several of the miners, using pseudonyms, sued the government under the Privacy Act. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the miners had not shown that they suffered any “actual damages” from the release. U.S. Supreme Court justices heard lengthy and technical debate over whether actual harm must be shown to win damages, or if proof of intentional violation of the act is sufficient. Justice Stephen Breyer said that with widespread release of Social Security numbers and other information, “it is easy to imagine bankruptcy for the federal treasury” if it were made too easy to win damages. Government lawyer Malcolm Stewart also cautioned against making it too easy to recover Privacy Act damages. He said. “Social Security numbers are not inherently secret or private.”

Excerpt of a ruling in Mattivi v. RussellA newspaper is not liable under the federal Driver's Privacy Protection Act for publishing an accident report prepared by state police, a federal court has ruled. (Mattivi v. Russell, Aug. 2, 2002.) This is one of several recent decisions in which courts have rejected attempts to expand the reach of the privacy protection act.
Excerpt from U.S. District Court Judge Damon Keith:"Democracy dies behind closed doors."
Excerpt of a ruling by the Supreme Court of Nevada:Records showing the telephone numbers of incoming and outgoing calls on publicly owned cellular telephones are not confidential or private, Nevada's highest state court has ruled. (Las Vegas Review v. Board of County Commissioners, Aug. 18, 2000.)

Excerpt of a ruling by US Supreme Court written for the majority by Justice John Paul Stevens:As a matter of constitutional tradition, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we presume that governmental regulation of the content of speech is more likely to interfere with the free exchange of ideas than to encourage it. The interest in encouraging freedom of expression in a democratic society outweighs any theoretical but unproven benefit of censorship.

Excerpts of rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada / Cour suprême du Canada: The decisions of this Court ... recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her dealings with the state and the same person’s reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her dealings with ordinary citizens..... Many times it has been urged that the ‘privacy’ of litigants requires that the public be excluded from court proceedings. It is now well established, however, that covertness is the exception and openness the rule. ... As a general rule the sensibilities of the individuals involved are no basis for exclusion of the public from judicial proceedings..... The public’s right to information, supported by freedom of expression, places limits on the right to respect for one’s private life in certain circumstances. This is because the expectation of privacy is reduced in certain cases... Aubry v. Éditions Vice-Versa Inc.,

In a letter dated Nov 30, 2004 the Canadian Privacy Commissioner's office stated that Canadian Privacy regulations - PIPEDA do not apply to Abika.com

United Nations, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers".

Toby Mendel, Head of law programme at ARTICLE 19, a leading international human rights organization based in UK in various publications explains that as a human right, privacy primarily relates to government actions not private actions. Human rights guarantees do not impose broad obligations on governments to protect individuals against possible invasions of their privacy by other individuals... Constitutional and international guarantees require that restrictions on freedom of expression, even in the interests of privacy, must meet a very high standard of legality and necessity. This implies, among other things, that governments must use the least intrusive means available to protect privacy interests.

Anita L. Allen, Professor, University of Pennsylvania School of Law in a paper published in the William & Mary Law Review discusses how PRIVACY PERPETUATES VIOLENCE AND SUBORDINATION AGAINST WOMEN, CHILDREN, AND THE ELDERLY and how Vulnerable citizens cannot be protected from domestic violence if unbreachable boundaries of legally sanctioned privacy surround the family. She calls the worthiness of the privacy ideal into question as problems of domestic violence suggest a need for more, rather than less, involvement in the traditionally "private" spheres of home and family life.

Betsy Hart served on the White House Staff of Ronald Reagan and in various columns for newspapers such as the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Rocky Mountain News & The Detroit News explains how Privacy hurts security, perpetuates domestic discord and abuse, and puts teens and other children at risk. Privacy discourages parental involvement with children and that creates a rift which in turn can lead to anti-social and criminal behavior.Heather Mac Donald who is a John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute calls far left activists Privocrats who put privacy ahead of security.

Rationale for freedom of information is based on an analogy of information to goods in the economic marketplace. The theory holds that truth arises out of the competition of information in an open market. The rationale is articulated in U.S. Supreme Court case law in the case Abrams v U.S. 250 US 616. Openness and competition of information and goods are the heart of the American system. And instead of being afraid of it, we should encourage it keeping in mind that the long-term result, now as in the past, will be greater security, tolerance and a higher standard of living for all. A honest person has nothing to fear from the free flow of information as they have nothing to hide. Our society has prospered and thrived by learning about each other, not by hiding from each other. The more information available about people the lower the risk in dealing with other people and the better relations between people. In most instances little information is more harmful than full information. If information is widely available then facts can generally be verified through many different sources and there are less chances of inaccuracies. Human beings should be free to learn about each other as they always have been and the freedom to learn about each other is as fundamental and unalienable as any other right. Unrestricted flow of information is a great equalizer for the only way there can be a big brother institution is if information is only available to a select few. When information is private it is easy for bad guys to use stolen identities because lack of information prevents the good guys from verifying identities or other claims. Privacy encourages criminal elements as it makes it easy for them to hide their shady activities. Switzerland had strict privacy laws for banking and who was generally taking advantage of it, Honest Joe Smith or criminals and corrupt politicians? Facts speak for themselves.

Solveig Singleton of the Cato Institute in various publications explains how privacy turns freedom of speech and information on its head. From light conversation, to journalism, to consumer credit reporting, we rely on being able to freely communicate details of one another's lives. She asks how can any people be free if they are restricted from the most basic human activity of learning more about real people?

Leviticus 19:18 Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: How can one love their neighbor if one is not allowed to learn about their neighbor? Privacy perpetuates intolerance and hatred - How can anyone accept me or learn to accept me as I am if they are not allowed to know the real me? Privacy is unhappiness - How can I be happy if I have to constantly hide my true self from others.

Anita L. Allen-Castellitto, Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law, University of Pennsylvania in various publications asks: In a free society, should government force privacy? She discusses how privacy could also be the door to censorship and oppression. In speaking of the value of the First Amendment, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA Law comments in various publications: Restrictions on information have overwhelming free speech ramifications. We know things about any individual we run across. We may write down what we know or tell others. There are no rights to stop people from talking about you, he says, just as we talk about others -- and about the companies we deal with.

David Brin Ph.D., Astrophysicist and renowned author in his book "The Transparent Society" discusses how our society has one great knack that no other ever managed - that of holding the mighty accountable. He discusses how citizens are empowered by demanding the power to know and insisting that everybody get to see. He explains how history shows that blinding the mighty is a futile endeavor that has never worked and how citizens are empowered when everybody has access to information. Freedom thrives when there is openness and accountability. He mentions an important thing to remember, that anyone who claims a right to keep something private is also claiming a right to deny knowledge to others, to blind others. He also explains how we are all better protected by knowing than by forbidding others to know.