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Death from a lack of privacy

You have no right to privacy. There is nothing in the US Constitution that guarantees that you have any ability to protect yourself from those who want to know everything about you and disclose it to the world.

From the local supermarket chain that requires a special card to get discounts and requires your social security number to get the special card (then keeps track of everything you purchase after you get the card) to credit card companies that sell the history of your purchases to anyone with a few dollars -- personal information is now a basic part of big business.

The potential for abuse was bad before the Internet explosion, when corporations had isolated machines that did "data mining" to try and figure out if you like pistachio ice cream, now with these machines linked the implications are ominous indeed.

A simple case of potential privacy invasion on the Internet is the ability of web servers to store facts about your web use in "cookies" in your browser. Many people regularly run programs on their machines to remove these cookies but Christian Huitema, the former chair of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) has proposed an alternate approach designed to let histories be built up but to make them useless. You send any cookies you get off to an Internet-based cookie bank, the bank returns a random cookie to be used next time you connect to the web server, thus the histories of many people get jumbled together, negating the reliability of the information.

The Clinton administration's A Framework For Global Electronic Commerce ( argues against legal protection for privacy as is done in many European countries. It argues in favor of some vaguely defined industry "self-regulation." Somehow I do not find it comforting to know that the data mining industry is in charge of protecting my privacy. I'd rather make it so that people that improperly disclose information go to jail. It would seem to me that a government prosecutor would have a somewhat better chance against a billion dollar corporation that I would in trying to right a wrong.

Those who claim that its all for our own good and enables corporations to better target advertising that we want to see and, anyway, if you have nothing to hide what are you worried about should take a lesson from recent events. It was a general acquiesce to an environment of no individual privacy rights that caused Diana and her companions to be hounded, literally, to death in a tunnel in Paris. This may seem overly dramatic but imagine what its like for someone who tests positive to a disease such as HIV when that information leaks from the corporate doctor to management. This type of thing is at the bottom of the slope we are going down as we accept the assertion that an individual has a limited right to privacy.

disclaimer: Harvard does take privacy very seriously but the above are my own worries.