Most humans value their privacy. That is, they value access or control of information about themselves. They want to be the ones who decide who has access or control of information about themselves. They also want to be the ones who decide on what personal information to be given to whom. Privacy debate is about the access, control and use of information about persons without their knowledge or permission. It is also about the unauthorized use of these information for malicious or fraudulent ends. The privacy debate traces its origin to the early era of the printing of newspapers and photography when people asserted their rights to be left alone, and to be protected from the violation of their personality occasioned by the activities of journalists of that time (Privacy and Information technology, 2014).
Today, Internet raises a similar concern about privacy. This concern about privacy are varied and many (Paine, Reips, Stieger, Joinson, & Buchanan, 2007). This is because we are in the era of big data (Tene & Polonetsky, 2012). More and more people spend a lot of time online, and also have a lot of personal information in the Internet. Thus many Internet users are concerned about the unauthorized access, storage and use of their personal information. There is the concern about the control of this data by a few persons and their possible manipulation by unknown persons whose ethics may be questionable (Leonhard, 2014). There are moral reasons for a quest to ensure that one’s data is protected (Privacy and Information technology, 2014). They include “Prevention of Harm” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Unauthorized access to an individual’s data, location, passwords, personal characteristics and preferences can be used to harm the person. “Informational Injustice and discrimination” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Someone’s preferences or health records can be used, if it is accessed by unauthorized persons, to discriminate against such person. “Encroachment on moral autonomy” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Outside forces can manipulate the data they have on someone to influence the choices these individuals make (Leonhard, 2014). “Informational Inequality” (Privacy and Information technology, 2014): Since data has become a commodity, there is need for people whose data are used to be fairly rewarded for the use of their data, but they are not usually consulted or involved in this negotiation. Tene and Polonetsky (2012) summarizes some of these concerns beautifully when they explained that the “tasks of ensuring data security and protecting privacy become harder as information is multiplied and shared ever more widely around the world. Information regarding individuals’ health, location, electricity use, and online activity is exposed to scrutiny, raising concerns about profiling, discrimination, exclusion, and loss of control”.
In spite of the concern about unauthorized access and use of personal information online, others have argued that some unauthorized access and use of personal information may be reasonable and beneficial to the common good (Raicu, 2013; Tene & Plonetsky, 2012; Dinev, Hart, & Mullen, 2008). They explain that it is essential for security, prevention of more serious calamities, and improvement of services/products (like prevention of terrorism and the spread of contagious diseases or epidemic or improvement of drugs).
From the foregoing, it is obvious that there are great concerns about the use of private information without authorization. It is important that policies are set in place to ensure that these personal data are protected and secured. It is also critical that information that can be easily traced to individuals (and that may cause them harm when it is) should not be used without their explicit permission. Furthermore, given the growing importance and significance of data and big data, professionals with skills to access, store or control personal data should be held in higher standard of ethics (just as, for instance, doctors are expected to keep certain ethical standards). In the near future, carelessness with personal data could mean life or death.
However, for the sake of the common good, it is reasonable that some unauthorized access to individual data can be made use of (as long as this access will not be harmful or identified with the individual). Moreover, there should be stringent policies guarding such use. Furthermore, there should be possibility of redress for individuals if there is a negative impact on them of the use of their personal information.
Dinev, T., Hart, P., & Mullen, M. R. (2008). Internet privacy concerns and beliefs about government surveillance–An empirical investigation. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 17(3), 214-233.
Leonhard, G. (2014, December 6). Digital ethics and the future of humans in a connected world. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZn0IfOb61U&feature=youtu.be
Paine, C., Reips, U. D., Stieger, S., Joinson, A., & Buchanan, T. (2007). Internet users’ perceptions of ‘privacy concerns’ and ‘privacy actions’. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 65(6), 526-536.
Privacy and Information technology. (2014, November 20). Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/it-privacy/
Raicu, I. (2013, February 4). The ethics of online privacy protection. Retrieved from https://www.scu.edu/ethics/privacy/the-ethics-of-online-privacy-protection/
Tene, O., & Polonetsky, J. (2012, February 2). Privacy in the age of Big Data: A time for big decisions. Retrieved from https://www.stanfordlawreview.org/online/privacy-paradox-privacy-and-big-data/