The concept of digital privacy can best be described as the protection of the information of private citizens who use digital mediums. However, when people speak about digital privacy, they often are referring to it in terms of its relation to Internet usage. Despite it being a popular and often incendiary issue, the obstacle of defining what digital privacy really is can prevent resolution.
Digital privacy centers on the fact that using digital mediums to conduct affairs, whether personal or professional, can leave digital footprints. For example, many Internet users don't realize that information about them and their Internet usage habits are constantly being logged and stored. A computer's Internet Protocol (IP) address can be traced back to a specific user and, as such, his website viewing habits can be monitored. Information such as the date and time of his searches, what browser he used to access websites and even how long he viewed websites can be retained on a search engine's servers. Servers can vary in the length of time they store this information before deleting it.
Digital privacy can also extend to the use of domain names. Many domain owners take extra steps to protect their information by employing domain privacy services, but the success of such a maneuver is questionable. For example, some companies that specialize in domain privacy need only to receive a phone call requesting domain owner information before supplying it. Also, if a website owner forgoes using domain privacy services, his name, address, email address, telephone number and other associated details are entered into a public WHOIS database and can be recalled by anyone searching for it.
Certain websites that specialize in aggregating information from various sources to provide users with profiles of private citizens also are a cause for concern among digital privacy advocates. These websites might return full names, birth dates, addresses, aliases, pictures of and maps to queried people's homes and much more. In addition, these websites can detail an individuals' history. It's not uncommon to come across information detailing the past 10 years of a queried person's life.
Though digital privacy is an issue that remains at the forefront of many private citizens' thoughts as they attempt to navigate the Internet and embrace new technology, official and complete protection remains just out of reach. This is because the idea of privacy in a technological — and, thus, ever-evolving — landscape continues to change meaning. Before the issue can be addressed, there has to be a clear definition of what privacy means in the digital world.
The debate over digital privacy rages on and will continue as long as technology advances. Internet users will always stand by their right to privacy and also their right to publicly accessible information. Questions about legislation continue to arise as lawmakers attempt to strike a balance between protecting its citizens' privacy and keeping them informed.