Privacy and Technology

The emergence of technology might have been regarded as a blessing to the modern generation, as evidenced by the ease of livelihood felt by people from using technological devices. However, one aspect of human life seems to be threatened by the perpetual emergence of technology – the constitutional right to privacy. Nowadays, people use technological means to save or even enter private information regarding their personal lives, professional lives, or even their business. Similarly, technological gadgets such as surveillance cameras have been installed in almost every location, which has made it quite difficult for people to go by their private lives without fear of intimidation by such cameras of the feeling that they are being monitored in one way or another. Technologies such as social media have even begun to be used in the medical sector, which is such a danger to the privacy of medical information. According to Antheunis et al., this technology helps in “…improving the efficiency. This motive not only refers to cost reduction by using the Internet for health-related reasons but also to improving the quality of healthcare, for example by the possibility to compare different health care providers on the Internet.” As such, private patient information has been left exposed. In this line, this paper presents a comprehensive argument on the adverse effects of technology on privacy and freedom, particularly in the professional, business, and individual lives. The paper presents three arguments: the negative effects of technology on the privacy of personal information, private communications, and workplace/public interactions.

Effect of Technology on Privacy of Personal Information

The current generation operates on almost everything that is technological, which in one way or another captures personal information about people. From the credit cards, people use their telephone bills, their private information is captured. Additionally, people’s credit file carries personal financial information about them. Simple tasks such as sending emails to people also expose significant information about people to the Internet. Although the risks to privacy may not be very obvious, any persons with ill intentions may retrieve the information contained in the sources described above to harm people in one way or another. They may encroach into their personal financial lives, for fraudulent purposes. In 2007, alone, approximately 127 million sensitive paper and electronic records that contained Social Security numbers and other similar information were lost or hacked. These statistics were a record increase in data breaches by a whopping 650% from the previous year. In the same year, a retail firm by the name TJX reported that their systems had been hacked leading 94 million and 45 million debit- and credit cards being stolen, respectively, which is regarded as a landmark data breach in American history.

In another incident of fraud, the British government reported having lost nearly computer discs in 2007. These computer discs purportedly contained personal information for 25 million people, close to half the nation’s total population. The looming merger between DoubleClick, which is an Internet ad company and Google, has sparked worry amongst some privacy advocates who feel that such a partnership would be a threat to individual privacy. According to these privacy advocates, this partnership could presage a period in which firms may periodically eavesdrop on people’s phone calls and their e-mails for purposes of personalizing with incredible precision. Another technological feature that is equally a danger to individual privacy is the Beacon feature by Facebook. This feature notifies users in case their friend’s purchase products from Facebook affiliates. In this case, it is evident that the information age is marred by breach of privacy to the extent that even personal things such as shopping habits are publicly displayed. Due to an outrage from users, Facebook opted to use Beacon as an opt-in service although there were demands to drop altogether.

The protection of private information has been a pressing issue for lawmakers in the United States, particularly. The principal deputy director of National Intelligence in America, Donald Kerr expressed worries that the effort to ensure the privacy of information may prove quite intimidating in view of the kind of technological advancements that people apply in their everyday lives. Typically, every action taken by individuals leaves a trace of personal information, which may be exposed to unauthorized personnel that may use them for fraudulent practices. Privacy advocates have long expressed concerns about the effect of technological advancements on the private lives of individuals. Most of them have projected an era in which governments and corporations can potentially access people’s private information readily given the traces of personal information people leave during their day-to-day actions.

Numerous legislations have been passed forth over years to protect the privacy of information for the people in the United States. While some of these amendments are federal, others are state-based. The most notable legislation in history is the 1974 Privacy Act of 1974. This law forbids the disclosure of particular federal records, which may contain sensitive personal information about individuals. Although this legislation became effective in the following years, the emergence of amendments on exceptions to this law has rendered it ineffective. The limitations are so many that the law has been termed as just a mere legislation that has no notable impact on protecting private information. In view of this flaw in the legislation, there have been numerous incidences of privacy breach. As such, no information regarding the individual lives of people is safe regardless of whether it is in the hand of the government or corporations.

Another act meant to safeguard the private information of individuals is the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. This enactment was informed by a series of grave criminal activities that occurred in 1989, which were attributed to the Department of Motor Vehicles. As such, the law prohibited the DMV from releasing private information that may be used to cause any form of harm. However, like the Privacy Act, the effectiveness of this legislation is hampered by the various exemptions outlined in the clause, which totals up to fourteen. One exemption, which has been of concern regarding privacy of information, is the one that permits licensed private investigators to access personal information in cases where the purpose they serve is outlined in the other thirteen exemptions. This exemption resulted in the murder of a famous actress Rebecca Schaeffer after an obsessed fan retrieved her home address from her DMV records, tracking her down and killing her.

In this case, it is imperative that the release of personal information saved on technological devices such as the DMV records can put the lives of people in danger. DMV records and other technological means that save the people’s locations, whether their places of works or homes are a breach of privacy. In the event that individuals with ill intentions access such information, they may use them to create harm or commit fraud.

An essential gadget used in the contemporary generation is the cell phone. Although everyone has his or her own cellphone, it is not a guarantee that the information kept on these cell phones is safe. On the contrary, it is actually not given that the information kept on such cell phones is not at the discretion of holder but rather at the discretion of the cell phone company and the service providers. Ideally, every time one needs to purchase a cell phone, it is almost obligatory to present some form of identification, which the cell phone companies claim to use for tracking the cell phones in case they get lost. By submitting personal information such as identification cards, the cell phone holder exposes private information that may end up in the hands of unscrupulous individuals. The other threat to privacy occurs in the service providers that keep records of all calls made and received. Additionally, the cell phones themselves are designed to give away the location of the cell phone holders.

As Price states, “Since 1999, the Federal Communications Commission has required that all new cell phones in the U.S. use some form of locating technology that makes it possible to find them within 1,000 feet 95 percent of the time; the technology works as long as your phone is on, even if it isn’t being used”. The argument for such technology is that it assists 911 responders in the attempt to locate the cell phone holder in case of emergency. Although the technology is used for locating people during emergencies, the applications are increasingly expanding. Most advertisers have begun using the cell phone GPS for sending text-message coupons for luring potential customers passing by into their stores. Services such as Buddy Beacon and Loopt also capitalize on the cell phone signals and GPS technology by allowing users to view maps that depict the locations of their friends. These technological advancements make it quite difficult for people to keep their location private since in one way, or another someone is capable of capturing their location.

Effect of Technology on Privacy of Private Communications

By definition, privacy in private communications refers to all forms of privacy issues in personal communication that people may wish to keep private. However, personal communication occurs over technological channels that include emails, the social networks, phone calls, and other means of communications. Although the companies that own these communication channels such as Google may guarantee total privacy, privacy advocates have expressed concern that other unauthorized personnel may access such communications. From sending a simple text message, making a phone call to sending emails, every communication that people may perceive as private may just leave traces of information, which is an encroachment on privacy since such information may be accessible to other people who may use them for ill intentions.

Although people have thought of techniques to withhold their private information, it is increasingly becoming a daunting task. For instance, one may opt to hide their caller identity through the phone settings so that the number would be hidden every time a call is placed. Another technique is to buy a prepaid calling card. However, the service providers have the capacity to retrieve the identity of the caller by triangulating on the location of the caller using the GPS technology. In so doing, such communications no longer become private. Ideally, cell phone holders have no freedom to conduct any private communication since the service providers have the authoritative capacity to monitor such communications or any other electronic communications for that matter.

While hiding identity on the cell phone is cumbersome, hiding any activity over the Internet is almost impossible. As such, every time a user accesses the Internet, the corresponding Internet service provider (ISP) detects that such user is online and keeps track of all activities. Price highlights in her piece that “In 2005, the European Parliament passed legislation requiring phone and Internet providers to retain records of calls and online activity for between six months and two years. In 2006, the–U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller met privately with America’s major ISPs to request that they, too, hold on to these records for two years”. Cookies are a feature of the Internet that keeps records of all the activities conducted online that include usernames, passwords, and any sent emails- among other private communications. Even the searches conducted over the Internet are stored in the cookies and may be retrieved at any time. The fact that online communications cannot be kept private, and somehow someway there is always a record of any online activities conducted even instigated the creation of web erasers that delete searches automatically within a prescribed time. Even when a user sends an unencrypted e-mail, there is a possibility that it skilled hackers could intercept and read it. Additionally, the e-mail may be stored permanently on a server despite deleting it. The Web sites on the Internet routinely keep information on the duration of time spent on given webpages and even the number of mouse clicks made.

Effect of Technology on Privacy and Freedom of Workplace/Public Interaction

When at work or just walking around, there are instances where people want to keep their privacy. However, this is not to be the case in the face of increasing use of video and audio surveillance using state-of-art cameras and audio devices capable of capturing every small bit of activity, whether at work or in the public arena. According to Price, “surveillance is a fact of our electronic society”. No matter how private one needs to be, there is always a high possibility that one is being tracked. As such, people have become so open to government and other surveillance agencies that it has become difficult to so anything private without being monitored. Although video and audio surveillance have proved beneficial, it is increasingly encroaching on the constitutional rights. The United Kingdom, which is small compared to the U.S, has nearly 4 million surveillance cameras. It implies that the U. S has more cameras while more are being added day by day. For instance, the New York City Police Department looks to add 3,000 private and public surveillance cameras to boost security. It means that every American walking on the streets is likely to be monitored by the government.

Besides privacy, technological advancements have had a great impact on people’s freedom, particularly in public places. It is not that technology directly prevents people from doing what they want but rather the corresponding effects of being glued to technological devices while in public places. Jonathan Franken reiterates this concept in “I Just Called To Say I Love You.” Franzen illustrates numerous examples of the way various technologies offset the way people interacted or existed before. One of the technologies highlighted is airport television, which is a supposed nuisance. While it may entertain only a few people, the rest of the travelers busy with their traveling plans often feel bothered by these televisions.

With the emergence of smartphones, people have increasingly developed habits that affect the freedom of those around them. Even where there are many people standing or walking by it is possible to see a whole lot of people glued to their phones. Such habits are so distracting that they may affect the day-to-day lives of other people around the cellphone users. Franzen presents various scenarios to support the claim that many people in America and the world as a whole have developed a bad cell-phone behavior in which they never put the devices down regardless of where or the situation they find themselves in. Franzen highlights a scenario in which people in checkout line are too hooked on the phone conversations that they fail to speak to the clerk. In another example, drivers on a riding plane become distracted on their cellphones while driving. These examples further ascertain the claim that “One of the great irritations of modern technology is that when some new development has made my life palpably worse and is continuing to find new and different ways to bedevil it…”.

Privacy in public interactions can also be highlighted in view of the case of Kyllo v. the United States. In this case, the defendant Kyllo was arguing against the illegal warrantless use of the Thermal Imaging Technology to search his personal premises. The first court ruled in favor of the United States since the search results showed that the accused was actually dealing in marijuana and weapons. Although the Supreme Court ruled that, it would be considered constitutional if law enforcement agencies used Thermal Imaging technology to obtain information that may not be obtained while inside the premises, it was considered as a blow to privacy. If the law enforcement agencies used the technology, it would encroach on the privacy of citizens, especially in cases where the allegations laid is false.

In the workplace too, there is a threat to privacy posed by the technological advancements. For instance, employers have begun to install surveillance cameras, even in personal offices of employees. By doing this, the workers often feel that their privacy work is encroached, especially in areas that need proper attention. The employees, consequently, feel distracted by the thought of being monitored by the seniors. Although workplace surveillance may be regarded as an infringement of freedom and privacy, technological advancements such as e-mail monitoring have proved effective in protecting organizational interests. According to Cox, Goette, and Young, “Organizations must secure sensitive company information, including trade secrets, intellectual property, and customer, employee, and financial data.”. The importance is also highlighted in New York Times that states, “Mr. Sullivan is the one using software to monitor workers. For example, he said, the data might show that someone who is efficient at serving several tables is not very good at sales if that person’s average ticket is less than the restaurant’s.”


Modern technology has culminated in significant challenges to civil liberties such as freedom and privacy, which may not have been envisioned by constitutional framers and other policymakers alike. A host of technological advancements in the current world makes it easier for employers, government agencies, and other interested parties to know the things people do or even their thoughts. They include DNA fingerprinting, duplication of copyrighted computer files, monitoring of electronic communications, and audio/video surveillance- among other innovations. The public has greatly commended these innovations in the effort to reduce terrorism and many criminal activities. However, the continued emergence and the permission to use these technological innovations are a threat to the constitutional liberties of most Americans, who are mostly champions of their rights. The overindulgence of these technological innovations into the lives of the citizens makes it difficult for them to lead private lives since in one way or another one’s information is readily accessible to those interested. Therefore, it is arguable that the continued use of technology may impact negatively on privacy and freedom of Americans and other people around the globe.