Tag Archive | "right to privacy"

The Usual Suspects

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The adage “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion” is an expression asserting that individuals in lofty positions need not only be pure in actuality, but also in the common perception.  While the state of being “above suspicion” may have been possible in simpler days gone by, it is a virtual impossibility today – just ask celebrities including Tiger Woods, Lindsey Lohan, or Paris Hilton, or politicians such as Bill Clinton or Mark Sanford.

With advanced technology, our lives have never been so much a matter of record as they are today.  Our births, medical histories, education, career progression, purchases, and income data are all a part of one informational repository or another.  Although the data may be widely dispersed, how long will it be before all of that information will be compiled, categorized, and classified in one master record of each of our lives?  Nor is privacy guaranteed even in our bedrooms – just ask the Rutgers University student recently videoed having sex in his dorm room on a camera hidden by fellow students.

The English novelist and satirist William Makepeace Thackeray advanced the notion that “there’s a skeleton in every closet;” that is, each of us, no matter how well he or she maintains appearances, has a well-hidden secret.  And, as technological advances make our lives digital “open books,” all of our hidden secrets are becoming increasingly discoverable.

While the numbers of those interested in discovering the secrets of the common person are more limited, those in the public eye are the continual target of sleuthing activities by professional or political adversaries, legitimate journalists, gossip columnists, and an ever more inquisitive public.  With the juicy details only mouse clicks away, even the most deeply buried secrets will ultimately reveal themselves to their dogged investigators.

Thus, in today’s society and that of the foreseeable future, it appears that Caesar would never marry for fear that his wife – like virtually anyone and everyone – could not remain “above suspicion.”  And, if we have come to a point at which individual freedoms and dignity are bounded by the perceptions of a fickle public, it is a sad commentary on the erosion of personal rights of privacy.  With little or no privacy, we all become the “usual suspects.”

The Trojan Horse in Your Home

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According to the legendary ancient Greek epic poet Homer, during the ten-year siege of Troy, the Greeks plotted to invade their enemies by leaving a giant wooden horse at the gates of Troy.  This “gift horse” was carefully timed to coincide with what appeared to be a recession of the Greek fleet.  Assuming that the gargantuan equine was a peace offering, the Trojans opened their gates and rolled the horse inside.  In the dead of night, a team of thirty select Greeks quietly stole out of the horse and reopened the gates to their own armada that destroyed Troy.

Since that time, the term “Trojan Horse” refers to trickery or sleight-of-hand conducted with ill intent.  In the computer world, a “Trojan Horse” refers to malevolent computer programs (“malware”) that appear to be useful or harmless.  They induce the user to install and run them and thereby, seriously compromise, crash, or totally obliterate the user’s system.

Herein lies the crux of this article.  By having a computer system linked to the World Wide Web, have we invited foes into our homes?

I recently heard on the radio that a school in Pennsylvania gave every one of its students a free Apple laptop computer without notifying them that it could reveal what the students were doing at school or home, whenever the school decided to access its video cameras linked to those laptops.  The school’s treachery was revealed when its administrators interrogated one student concerning his use of drugs.  Needless to say, when the student informed his parents of this occurrence, the question arose as to whether or not this constituted a violation of the student’s civil rights.

If this could happen to a student, via a body of adults that he and his parents trusted implicitly, the question arises as to how widespread this problem may be. Legally, the issue impacts not only the unwary user but also the manufacturer(s) of the computer and videocam, the Internet provider, and those who supplied the laptop to the student.   If you think you’re immune to such deception, consider how many times you have agreed to terms of software utilization and access, via the Internet, without actually reading all of the terms.

The PC may be the greatest learning tool in recent history, but at what cost?  Is your personal business at risk? Once the foe has access to your home and its possessions, you are at his mercy.  It’s twenty-six years after George Orwell’s prognostications about “1984” have come and gone, and it appears that the author was correct.  “Big Brother” is indeed watching!

Our Constitution guarantees us freedom from illegal searches and seizures, but how many times have you heard that someone who has been accused of a crime has had his computer impounded by law enforcement authorities?  If the presumption of “innocent until found guilty” is the basis for our law, and if the Constitution protects us against invasions of this nature, what exactly is going on here, and why is it going on?  Is this part of the Patriot Act now expanding into avenues it was never intended to survey?

Finally, we have a subject into which the ACLU can really sink its sharp little incisors.  If the ACLU is so concerned with safeguarding our inalienable rights, let them examine the legality of cyberspace agreements and malware programs.   Let them then push to institute laws that would protect PC users — nearly every American above the age of two — from pitfalls such as these.

Your files on your PC contain what you are and who you are: your thoughts, your opinions, your desires, the sites you enter, the products you purchase, your banking documents, ad infinitum.  You may consider these aspects of your life to be highly personal and accessible only by the use of a password.  Consider again how private they really are if a Trojan Horse in the guise of a malicious program or an unscrupulous party should be left at your gateway to the Internet. 

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