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Privacy, simply stated, is the right to keep certain information private and protected from other parties. Although some governmental doctrines, such as the United States Constitution, guarantee certain specific privacy rights, the growing abundance of easy-access information technology and increased concerns over safety and legality have lead to extensive questions about protected rights of privacy. These questions seem to penetrate nearly every aspect of daily society, whether in school, at work, dealing with the government, or even purchasing a product at a store.
Workplace privacy issues commonly revolve around the rights of the company versus the personal rights of the employee. While an employer does have the right to prevent fraud and ensure worker efficiency, some believe that there is an ethically gray area where it is easy for a company to invade a worker’s personal privacy. Many experts say that a company has a right to monitor company computer use and have access to company email servers, but not a right to read personal emails or access private computers used for work.
The invention of the Internet and rise of computers have lead to a massive creation of new privacy issues for many people. Email servers, for instance, often place targeted ads in a person’s email account based on words found in the account emails. While many companies insist that only computer programs, and not other people, have access to the information used to target these ads, many remain suspicious and find this a breach of privacy.
Due to the lack of enumerated laws regarding privacy and the Internet, privacy issues crop up regularly throughout the information sector. When buying a product online, customers may have to enter personal data, including financial information. Some companies may sell contact information, buying records, and income data third parties, resulting in unwanted spam, junk mail, and the ever-present possibility of identity theft.
One of the largest privacy issues regards the availability of personal data and its potential to allow discrimination. For instance, if a corporation were to have unfettered access to personal health data, is it a violation of personal rights to fire an employee with a history of depression, even if the condition has not affected work performance? Would it be reasonable or a privacy rights violation to insist that depressed employees take anti-depressants in order to keep a job? Questions such as these are a major reason why government guidelines regarding privacy issues are so vital.
Students have long run up against privacy issues at school. In the United States, many consider randomized drug testing of student athletes to be a major breach of privacy and a violation of legal rights. Nonetheless, school administrators often insist on the right of the school to ensure that no violations of school drug policy are occurring. Privacy issues in the school are often amplified by the fact that underage students have no legal right to vote, and can be seen as victims of a system in which they are not granted equal rights or representation.
Potentially the most frightening privacy issues regard government treatment of individual privacy rights. The ability of government officials to wiretap phones, record movements, and gain access to personal data is often justified in the name of ferreting out crime and protecting the general welfare. In many countries, government organizations must show that a crime is suspected before beginning surveillance. However, the heightened fear of terrorism in the 21st century has made this grey area of privacy even murkier, and some believe that sanctioned government privacy invasion is part of a slippery slope toward tyranny.
Although many people believe there should be a legal right to privacy, that right is often ill-defined and may differ greatly depending on local laws. The European Union insists that members regulate privacy according to basic agreements. Canada is often considered a model of individual privacy rights, with specific laws regarding protection from government invasion of privacy, as well as protection surrounding electronic data. Privacy issues are an ongoing struggle that becomes more complicated as new information technology is discovered. Many experts anticipate that one of the major legal issues of the 21st century will be the creation and regulation of privacy laws.