The Quest for Privacy in the Digital Age

Updated on November 23, 2017

My son, the techno-guru of the family, admonishes me almost daily that I’m in the five percent of the population who resists technology out of an exaggerated sense of semi-caution, which might border paranoia. And that to keep pace in an ever-changing world certain privileges of anonymity and privacy must be sacrificed, that the loss is far outweighed by the potential benefit.

Is this true? Am I isolated among an infinitesimally small group of folks clinging to a concept far-outdated and stunting to the overall technological-maturation of myself and those nearest to me in the digital-age?


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Is it wrong to fear whichever government agency or nefarious third-party might be reading my e-mails, or to avoid certain digital-trappings of the computer-age that others utilize for convenience or to save payroll costs?

Exactly how much trust should one allocate to the data-gathering electronic monsters that haunt our every keystroke and slide of the bank card?

In this series we will attempt to examine the pros and cons of the computer age and the relinquishing of privacy that seems to necessarily accompany nearly every foray into modern living from paying bills to visiting the library to banking to social media and beyond.

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First off, I’m not ready to concede the argument that my fears are unfounded or even substantially erroneous and/or overblown. News articles from various sources fill mountains of print-space with the horrors of everything from credit-card fraud to social media revenge-postings. Information gleaned from seemingly innocuous information hoarding repositories such as Face-book, My-space, and even the various Cloud postings are used daily to confound, compromise, and outright damage lives and reputations. These facts are not in dispute, nor, in my opinion, should they be taken lightly.

And with just a little research I’ve discovered I’m not alone in my concerns judging from the multitude of web-sites dealing with the various issues involving privacy that a simple keyword search on Google easily confirms. The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, has also sounded the alarm, confirmed by this 2014 posting on their website.

THE HUMAN RIGHT TO PRIVACY IN THE DIGITAL AGE

Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) protects everyone from arbitrary or unlawful interferences with their “privacy, family, home or correspondence.” The international human rights community has begun the process of responding to the erosion of privacy rights that new technologies have facilitated. This report recommends that the U.N. Human Rights Committee assist in this process by issuing a new General Comment on the right to privacy under Article 17 of the ICCPR.

You can read the rest of this informative article and their plans at:

https://www.aclu.org/other/human-right-privacy-digital-age

What exactly are people worried about concerning their privacy?

My son and I have owned and operated the local computer repair and associated sales company here in our small but thriving city for over 15 years now.

From personal experience dealing with customers and their concerns of privacy that I’ve personally witnessed, I can list a few personal observations that would seem to reinforce my own concerns.

When we “check in” or receive a computer for repair, certain information such as name, address, phone number etc. must be recorded for business purposes and some information is also mandated to be collected in accordance with state law. During the process of receiving a computer unit for repair, many folks voice different reservations concerning different aspects of the repair, as listed in no particular order below.

How much will it cost?

How long will it take?

How will their information be safeguarded?

Naturally many are conscious of the cost and how long it will take to perform agreed upon repairs. Just as naturally, in my opinion, is the fact people are concerned over their information. Most are somewhat worried that by some action or mistake that we might lose their data, in particular their pictures or documents. Some are leery that their information might “get loose” causing them to be compromised or damaged as a result of such an occurrence, with some asking exactly who will have access to their information, and exactly how and for how long their information may be kept under certain circumstances. Many are concerned of their bank data or business information being lost or compromised. Some are embarrassed over certain specific intimate data they’ve chosen to save onto their hard drive.

In my opinion, these are all valid concerns and I completely understand their fears, as I share them as well, which is why our company has mandatory protocols in place for dealing with customer data, to safeguard and limit access, and rigidly enforce those standards. But it seems whenever technology offers a new avenue of accomplishing any particular task, some folks simply can’t resist the opportunity of utilizing or incorporating said applications into their everyday lives, perhaps sometimes without adequate thought of the repercussions involved, which could be many and far-reaching. Let’s take a look at some of those applications and some of the repercussions possible.

Telecommunications

We live in the age of instant communication and easy access to loads of information. We can communicate with nearly anyone at anytime world-wide. We can access the internet and learn of a particular subject with amazing speed and access in-depth information easily. We have unprecedented access to governmental institutions across a wide platform and can instantly utilize many functions that used to take weeks that are now accomplished in minutes. We can master schooling and college degrees entirely on-line and can purchase products and have them delivered to the door never leaving the comfort of our own home.

There’s also a down-side, as unfortunately we also recognize that some percentage of the information we can access as being questionable, incorrect, or outright false. It’s no secret that bad actors of one form or another and even the major media companies are suspected of manipulating information or outright inventing data to be passed along to consumers for various agenda.

Information is harvested through various means manipulating telecommunications by many institutions including the government, technology corporations, political parties, and nefarious criminals using information against using various methods. Most websites on our planet uses and employs “digital cookies” planting various semi-hidden programs onto our computers and phones to digitally track our movements and extract information of our buying habits and even much more personal information.

Video cameras have permeated our way of living with many areas of America completely under surveillance 24/7/365. Privacy, both inside and outside of our homes, accounting for a certain measurable loss of what some might consider freedom, the freedom to move about anonymously, has dwindled considerably in the last 30 years. By law every cell-phone in America must have a GPS non-removable tracking system installed on the device. Safety and security are the most commonly cited reason/cause for this loss.

Online Banking and Credit Cards

I’m often asked by customers if I consider on-line banking generally safe. To which I usually reply that to understand the risks involved with on-line banking we might first consider that banks dig underground trenches from their facility to the local phone company hub installing dedicated lines which can usually only be compromised manually on-site. Banks understand that most any transmission that occurs across phone lines or is transmitted wirelessly is vulnerable to interception by third parties to one degree or another, although this fact may not be part of any particular bank’s advertising brochure.

We read at least weekly of one banking institution or another being compromised by hackers and the extent of the damage is often widely varied and often times it’s the customer who carries the risk and repercussions of fraud per bank policy. In addition, people might want to consider the words of Ross Anderson, one of Britain’s foremost cyber-security experts, when he states he has never banked on-line, and has no plans to do so because the customers carry the risk of fraud. Statistics vary but often times the customer is unable to recoup or become compensated when such fraud does occur.

Another facet of on-line banking to be considered is credit card and debit card theft and identity theft as it concerns your banked and digital monies. 15.4 million Consumers were victims of theft or fraud last year according to a study by Javelin Strategy and Research. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/01/consumers-lost-more-than-16b-to-fraud-and-identity-theft-last-year.html

Personally I like to walk into the bank and conduct transactions face to face with a teller I have come to know and trust. I like the idea of another human being involved, someone at least marginally responsible for helping keep track of my monies. I also want the paper trail records for my books for assurance that any particular transaction has taken place.

After researching this particular subject I’ve come to the conclusion that the decision of whether to use on-line banking or not is one of considering the various risks weighed against percentages. Is it 100% safe? The answer is absolutely not, but most folks, provided that they follow recommended procedures such as creating complicated passwords and other banking institution recommendations will likely be safe within a certain small margin of error. (Your experience may vary).

It’s exceedingly difficult to assess your particular chances of problems occurring with on-line banking as banks guard mishaps and individual problems of fraud and generally won’t report on the front page of the paper any particular customer being cyber-robbed or even release publicly the number of times such incidents occur. My overall recommendation for maximum safety would be to avoid on-line banking whenever possible, and limit and/or curtail the number of credit or debit cards you use and to certainly be quite cautious in using any cards on-line. If you’re going to utilize on-line banking I’d suggest reviewing the safety procedures offered by your bank and/or research for tips online. One fairly good guideline can be found at the following site:

https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2011/06/13/is-it-safe-to-bank-online

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