Monday, February 04, 2008

Do You Have a Right to Privacy Online?

Google is an essential tool for almost every public relations person I know. In addition to being a terrific search engine, it’s also a central clearinghouse for our photos, videos, e-mail, phone numbers, blogs, news feeds, maps, contacts, blogs, documents, credit-card information … and much, much more. We already know about all those people whose missteps — whether real or not — are preserved for all eternity by the power of Google.

Now, according to “Inside the Googleplex,” a fascinating article in The Economist, “Google could soon, if it wanted, compile dossiers on specific individuals.”

Edward Felten, a privacy expert at Princeton University, says that this presents “perhaps the most difficult privacy issues in all of human history.”

The results of a study released late last year by Britain's Economic and Social Research Council found that 56 percent of Internet users have concerns about privacy online. Privacy on the internet is a topic that should concern everybody.

While the European Union explicitly requires all member states to ensure the right to privacy of their citizens, the U.S. does not. (However, the Bill of Rights does address the people’s right “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” [Amendment IV]. Also, Amendment IX states that the “enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”)

I believe that determining who we trust should be an active, personal decision. I do not have a problem selectively revealing personal information online … provided I trust the person or institution requesting the information, and it is my decision to do so. I never want to automatically surrender that right to a giant internet monopoly, like Google, or a governmental entity on a fishing expedition, or anyone else who does not get my permission. Everyone under our Constitution has that right of freedom from prying and that protection should be enforced.

What do you think?

Technorati Tags: google, privacy, search engine, Edward Felten, Economic and Social Research Council, European Union, Bill of Rights, business, communications, public relations

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