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Technology and Privacy

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Technology and Privacy

Jurgen Debooserie
Accounting Information Systems

Technology and Privacy
Over the last few years, technology and privacy have been transformed in an encouraging and dangerous realm. Technology provides us with easy access to information anywhere, improves communication between entities, enhances efficiency and productivity, and introduces social networking. This whole new world opens a lot of opportunities for every industry, but it has also has its downfalls. Since entities are using technology to communicate with each other, we need to be aware of how private our conversations are. According to Oxford Dictionaries, privacy is the state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people or the state of being free from public attention.
In today’s society, we have several social networking websites including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The things we do and say online leave a trail behind of our personal information. Everyone can track us when users post pictures, click a hyperlink, send emails, turn on locations, and it gives companies the opportunity to public access and the ability to store it. Companies and the government collect information in ways that might could threaten our freedoms, because when corporations acquire our information they sell it back to the highest bidder, while the government introduces laws that allows them to monitor us like never before. It affects our freedom of speech, undermines a free media, and threatens the free exercise of religion. On the other hand, technology can also be implemented to limit corporations from collecting personal information and implements ways to protect our civil liberties.
The different types of private information include private communication, privacy of the body, personal information, and information about one’s possession. Private communication is all the personal communication which a person wants to keep private. The information between an employee and employer can be seen as an example. The privacy of the body refers to medical information about an individual. The individual has the right to know about the nature of an illness, and also has the right to privacy about the nature of the illness and cannot be forced to make it known to others. The only exception is in case the illness could endanger other individuals. A good example is HIV, since there is a change that it may affect other individuals. The third type of private information is personal information. Personal information refers to those categories of information which refers to only one individual. Some examples are names, addresses, or financial information. The last one is information about one’s possessions. This is information about an individual’s property right (Britz). This paper will primarily focus on personal information and private communications.
When we handle personal and private communication we are confronted with several ethical issues. Corporations do not usually know which information they are entitled to gather, they try to gather as much as possible. Some categories of personal and private information is important for certain individuals, but not for others. The next ethical issue on our list is the confidential treatment of the information. Can personal details be used for a purpose other than for what it was specifically gathered for? A third ethical issue is the accuracy of information. Sometimes an employer has information about the employee’s medical information. This information has a direct impact on an individual’s life and is certainly private information (Britz). When corporations abstract information from a social network site, they also have to protect the rights of an individual in terms of the use and distribution of someone’s information. Where can the corporations, who are collecting all the data, draw the line?
A couple of years ago, there was an individual who stood up for the public’s privacy on national and internal level. His name was Edward Joseph Snowden. Snowden was an American computer specialist who leaked information from the National Security Agency (NASA) to the public. He used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and later worked for Dell assigned as a contractor. On June 2013, he disclosed classified documents to several media outlets while working as an NSA contractor. The media started a big argument over mass surveillance, government secrecy, and the balance between national security and information privacy. Snowden began to notice how the NSA was spying on American citizens via phone calls and internet use. PRISM was the name of the surveillance practice that the NSA used. On June 5, the Guardian newspaper released the information of Snowden which included several names of multi-communication companies like Verizon and AT&T. They collected data regarding numbers called, dialed, and the duration of the phone call to the NSA. Later, the NSA also confirmed it had agreements with major tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Yahoo (Edward Snowden 2015).
The NSA domestic spying program was first officially introduced by President George w. Bush shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He gave permission to the NSA to conduct a range of surveillance activities inside the United States, which had been restricted by law and regulations policies for several decades. The USA Patriot Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The three key provisions of the act are roving wiretaps, searches of business records, and conducting surveillance of individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2012).
The NSA started to collect information from major telecommunications companies in America about their customers. The call-detail records included all the customer’s names, street addresses, and other personal and private information. They also collected detailed information about every call that was made to family members, co-works, business contacts and others. Second, they installed a sophisticated communications surveillance equipment in secret areas around the country. This equipment gave the NSA access to all the communications in real time. They analyzed the traffic for suspicious key words, patterns and connections. Again, all of this was done without consent of federal law and Constitution. Nobody knew this was happening, since everything was kept confidential between the NSA and the major telecommunication companies. When an individual would use the internet or write an email to someone, the government would intersect that information with fiber-optic splitters. The splitters made exact copies of the data passing and shared it directly with the government. The general public was not aware that the NSA was using splitters to intercept their information. The special equipment was installed at an AT&T facility within certain secret rooms that employees did not know about (Electronic Frontier Foundation 2012).
The fiber-optic splitters were only the beginning of a century of stealing private and personal information from individuals. There are several other ways that the NSA were spying on citizens. The NSA was collecting every American’s phone records. About every domestic phone call in the United States was being watched, suppose ably relevant to terrorist investigations. President Obama proposed changes by enhancing some kind of judicial oversight of access to the database. Second, the PRISM program let the NSA access private user information on leading online services. The nine major internet entities (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Pal Talk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple) were included in the program and allowed the NSA to document emails and messages (Hruska 2013). The NSA also engaged in offensive hacking operations, named Tailored Access Operations (TAO). They would hack into consumer gadgets and business IT systems to collect information in bulk. A hacker is someone who seeks and exploits weaknesses in a computer system or computer network. A fourth way the NSA was collecting information from individuals was tapping long-distance internet connections. They used the same method as fiber-optic splitters, but worked with countries around the world. The most data that was intercepted was between Google and Yahoo data centers. Google did not employ encryption with it moved data between its own servers, so it was easy for the NSA to tap into those connections and harvest large quantities of user data. Encryption is the process of encoding messages or information in such a way that only authorized parties can read it. A lack of encryption means that everyone can read the information (Lee 2015).
The National Security Agency (NSA) was not only spying on individuals, but also on foreign leaders and ordinary people overseas. Snowden included in his leaked documents that thirty five world leaders were being targeted by the NSA, including the Brazilian president and Mexican president. They spied on cell phone networks and the locations of users’ cell phones. The agency was not allowed to specifically target cell phone users, but it always said the record were collected by incident. Usually cell phone communications are encrypted to protect the privacy of users. In 2013, The NSA hacked a program called A5, which released all the contents of cell phone communications. A5 is one of the seven algorithms used to protect the user’s privacy when using a cellular telephone. In 2014, the Washington Post announced to the public that the NSA was recording every phone call in an unspecified country, and stored it for thirty days (Lee 2015).
From 2001 to 2011, the NSA was collecting vast amounts of information about American’s internet usage. The Bush administration collected all the emails of the sender and recipients, and all the websites that the user would browse upon. The program shut down after President Obama. Most website have tracking cookies, which are bits of data that store on the external hard drive of a personal computer. These help with ad targeting, but can also be used to identify users and hacking targets. It was easy for the NSA to hack into personal and private information, because they persuaded technology companies to make their technology easier to hack into. They asked multi communication companies to modify their products so they are more exploitable (Lee 2015).
Recently, the USA Today came out with an article announcing to the public that phone calls were being tracked even before 9/11. They monitored billions of internal calls over four generations of presidents. Normally, George W. Bush was the one starting the program after the terrorist attacks in New York, but this program has been going in since George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The targeted countries were Canada, Mexico, and most of Central and South America. These were countries that were most related to drug trafficking. They would track drug cartels that had a distribution network in the USA. The phone data dig started in 1922, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used the data collection extensively, but it was never checked by the government. Certain members of Congress received occasional briefings of what was collected, but otherwise the collection process had little oversight. The DEA did not need court approval back then, but since September 2013 the DEA has to submit subpoenas and prove that they only track phone numbers that are linked to drug trade or other crimes (Heath 2015).
The DEA made a claim that the only reason they tracked information is because the informants and undercover agents were not enough to bust Columbian drug cartels. They required the toll records from multi communication companies to see what numbers the person dialed, the date and time, its duration and how it is paid for. Toll records are similar to the information you get on a phone bill. There were certain problems with collecting all the paperwork from the toll records, so they asked the Pentagon for help. The military responded with a pair of supercomputers and intelligent analysts who had experience with tracking communication records. This system was a lot faster and discovered huge collections of data to map trafficking and money laundering overseas and in domestic parts of the country (Heath 2015).
In 1992, President George H.W. Bush’s administration started to collect larger amounts of phone data. First, they were collecting phone data which were suspicious to drug trafficking and crimes, but the Justice Department ordered companies to turn over lists of all phone calls. Officials declared that some companies did not want to provide the information, but also did not challenge the subpoenas in court. In 1998, a Sprint executive wanted to reserve the information and got a letter declaring that the initiative had been determined to be legally appropriate and that is was required by law to turn over the data. The DEA still confirmed to the public that the data was limited to drug investigations and turned away requests for access from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency (NSA). By the late 1990’s, the DEA was keeping a massive number of calls. At its peak, the operation gathered data from 160 countries (Heath 2015).
The practice was revealed in 2013, because certain news agencies found out that the DEA was training agents to conceal the sources of those tips they gave to agents. Lawyers said they were violating the privacy of the American citizens, because they had information about innocent people. The NSA began to even collect more information when 9/11 happened. George W. Bush’s administration signed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows the government to use secret court orders to get access to records relevant to national security investigations. After Edward Snowden published the information to news agencies, the DEA stopped the massive data collection. They now focus their results on more targeted individuals, but slower and more expensive. Agents said it takes a day or more to put together reports that used to only take minutes (Heath 2015).
There are companies out there that bring important news and leaked information to the public. WikiLeaks investigates such cases and publishes the original source with the material alongside their news stories. They want to make sure that journalists and whistleblowers are not put in jail for emailing classified documentation. WikiLeaks provides a section on their website, where journalists or reporters can anomalously submit evidence to leak information. The company actually helped Edward Snowden in leaving Hong Kong when he was running away from the government, but he did not leak through WikiLeaks. Edward Snowden did not want prevent his anonymity, because it gave him greater control over what was published. Users of WikiLeaks want to stay anonymous, be safe, and presume their lives as before (Handmer 2013).
In conclusion, some people have different opinions about whether our privacy is damaged or not. New technology may provide increased convenience or security, but it is at the expense of privacy. Technology has become cheaper, and its capabilities grow, but so does the fear of privacy. It does not only shrink privacy, but it has also the ability to enhance privacy. According to, privacy enhancing technologies (PET) is a general term for a set of computer tools, applications and mechanisms which allow online users to protect the privacy of their personally identifiable information provided to and handled by such services or applications. Examples of PETs are communication anonymizers and shared bogus online accounts. Communication anonymizers hide the real online identity and replaces it with non-traceable information. They can be applied to email, Web browsing, P2P networking, VoIP, Chat, instant messaging, etc. Shared bogus online accounts are created by a person with bogus data. Then he publishes the username and password on the internet so everyone can use his account. People would not have to make a new account to register at a site for example. Enhancing a person’s privacy does come with anticipated additional cost components. The service might ask for additional hardware or software licenses, designing or testing costs, communications costs, and development costs (Goldberg, Wagner, and Brewer).
We, users of technology, need to know what the dangers of technologies are. Every student is almost a user of Facebook, and we know that our information is being collected getting sold to external corporations. Every time we log in, we will see advertisement and commercials that adapt to our interest, because everyone is being tracked. Technology will improve over the next few years, since we are already introduced to new things. A small example is the new Fitbit, which is a device that helps people with weight loss. It tracks every activity you do, and records it on your phone with a Bluetooth connection. Technology is a lifestyle and everyone is living in this modern society. It would be hard to live without technology again, we are all exposed to it.

"Edward Snowden." A&E Networks Television. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.
"How the NSA's Domestic Spying Program Works." Electronic Frontier Foundation. 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.
Britz, J.J. "TECHNOLOGY AS A THREAT TO PRIVACY: Ethical Challenges." University of Pretoria. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <'96/96-025-Britz.html>.
Goldberg, Ian, David Wagner, and Eric Brewer. "Privacy-enhancing Technologies for the Internet." Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.
Handmer, Casey. "Edward Snowden Leaks & NSA Surveillance & Privacy Scandals (2013): Why Didn't Edward Snowden Leak through WikiLeaks?" 21 July 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.
Heath, Brad. "Calls Tracked Before 9/11." USA Today 8 Apr. 2015: 1A and 8A. Print.
Hruska, Joel. "PRISM: NSA Confirms It's Spying, Using Secret Courts -- But It's All For Your Own Good." HotHardware Computing and Tech News. 8 June 2013. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.
Lee, Timothy B. "13 Ways the NSA Has Spied on Us." Vox. 31 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2015. <>.

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