Like most countries and especially the United States their inhabitants enjoy a certain level of privacy. People dont generally want intimate information to be accessible to the public eye. In fact many people go to great lengths to hide everything about themselves. What exactly is the definition of privacy? Well, privacy is the expectation that confidential personal information disclosed in a private place will not be disclosed to third parties, when that disclosure would cause either embarassment or emotional distress to a person of reasonable sensitivities.
This information includes facts, images (ex: photographs and videotapes), and disparaging opinions. When over zealous law enforcement officials demand access to telephone conversations, e-mail or other electronic communication they are violating the unwritten code of privacy. When organizations from the private sector purchase intimate information about medical records either for commercial purposes, or to challenge your insurance eligibility or employment suitability. Unfortunatly this is a common practice in the United States and it is wrong.
First of all, what does the government do to secure this private information? The answer is very little. There are bascially two different laws that effect privacy. These two laws are the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Freedom of Information act. At a first inspection the two laws seem to work against each other. In short the Privacy Act of 1974 keeps information in government records concerning individuals discreet. The Privacy Act of 1974 gives the individual the rights to see and copy files that the federal government maintains on him or her.
It also gives the right to know who else has access to that information, and to request a change to any information that is not accurate. The most important part of this law is the fact that the government is not allowed to use any information for any purpose other than the one for which it was initially collected. This is important and will be addressed later on. The Freedom of Information Act is used mostly to pry open government files. It was designed to help individuals obtain information about the actions of government.
The law proclaims that any citizen is to be given access to government records unless the disclosure involves litigation, the CIA, personal matters, trade secrets, classified documents, law enforcement activities, and civil service exams. The two laws are actually an attempt to balance the publics right to know about what is going on in the government without degrading the rights of the individuals rights. It sounds like these two laws should cover everyones privacy without too much of a problem. However, this is not the case.
There is an immense amount of information floating around that is concidered public domain. Take for example the drivers license. Every drivers license contains a name, birthdate, home mailing address, license number, physical description failures to appear in court, failures to pay traffic fines, license status, and major convictions up to and including the past seven years. It does not end there. The Department of Motor Vehicles contains information that is commonly and routinely consulted by employers, insurace companies, attorneys, and private investigators.
What kind of information are these people trying to access. Well, that would include just about everything about your car such as its make, its owner and even the lienholder if the loan for the vehicle has not been paid in full. This information that is being collected by these third party groups is not being researched with the same intention that it was collected for. This is also wrong. What about court records. Unless those record involve a juvenile, they are usually public. Propety records are also open for public inspection.
When a home or other real estate is purchased , a record of the transaction is made by the County Assesors office and the County Recorders office. The files contain the location of the property, current owners name, address and previous owners names, dates of sale, description of the property, and the approximate value of the real estate holding. This information may seem trivial and unimportant. However this is not the truth. The public now has access to what anyone looks like, the car they drive, what real estate they own and where it is located.
It is easy to obtaine their fingerprints, signatures and possibly even their social security numbers. All of this information can be used for wrong doing. How can any of this information be damaging? Here are a few examples of misuse of public information and violation of privacy. Take for instance a banker accesses medical records to find people diagnosed with cancer. The banker could then use this information by calling in all loans made by people he found to be afflicted with cancer.
Another example would be President Clintons ideas for crime prevention. I will implement all new technologies for fighting crime. This new technology is a massive mugshot database based on drivers licenses around the country. The Department of Transportation said, to develop digital standard so that a national, and , perhaps international network of digitised images can be established using photographs and fingerprints from every drivers license from every state. Basically this states that a mugshot data base will be created by virtually all non-criminals.
This is a violation of privacy. When the DMV issued the drivers license there was never any intent to create a mugshot from the information on the card. In 1992 The DPPA(Federal Drivers Privacy Protection Act) was created to make a nation mugshot database. This act authorized the sale of drivers names, addresses, birthdates, social security numbers, drivers license numbers, digital signatures, and digital photographs to private companies for the purpose of making a registry of identifying information.
Fortunatly, this act was ruled unconstitutional for it was in violation of the tenth amendment. However, before this act was ruled unconstitutional the state of South Carolina sold the complete contents of it drivers license information for a mere five thousand dollars. Now with the introduction of the internet it is becoming increasingly difficult to control the publication of personal and private information. Any information that is collected should not be used for any other purpose except for what it was originally accepted.