Self-exposure or publicity is innate in human nature. A person mostly tries to display his or her power, supremacy, distinctiveness, appearance, better achievement and positive attitude towards others. Various social media, with the help of information technology, have turned those human desires into a reality, courtesy of magical touches of fingers. But obviously there are some personal matters and exposure or sharing of those with others could be very much humiliating, disastrous and could even put life at grave risks. Sharing some with close friends may not cause any harm but privacy or security will be compromised when the network continues to grow larger. Obviously, human beings value their privacy and protection of their personal life. They value some control over who knows what about them. They certainly do not want their intimate information to be accessible to anyone at any time.
However, recent advancement of information technology threatens privacy and has reduced the extent of control over personal data. This has also opened up the possibility of a range of negative consequences. The 21st century has become the century of big data. Advanced information technology allows storage and processing of Exabytes (1 Exabyte equals to 1 billion gigabytes) of data. The revelation of various confidential information of both ethical and unethical financial or political activities and affairs by Edward Snowden and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange indicates that such type of leaks might happen due to disloyalty of the protector of information or achievement of technical capabilities of hackers or other agencies. Such issues have also demonstrated that the worries are real and the technical capabilities to collect, store and search large quantities of data concerning telephone conversations, internet searches and electronic payment are now in place and are routinely used by government agencies. For business firms, personal data about customers and potential customers are also a key asset.
The meaning and value of privacy remain the subject of considerable controversy. A combination of increasing power of new technology and declining clarity and agreement on privacy give rise to problems concerning law, policy and ethics.
Largely facilitated with cloud computing, we are leaving our valuable data to others. Moral degradation of those administrators or protectors can violate privacy. As users increasingly own networked devices like cell phones, mobile devices, collect and send more and more data, concerns also grow at the same rate. These devices typically contain a range of data-generating sensors, including Global Positioning System (GPS), i.e., location, movement sensors, and cameras, and may transmit resulting data via the Internet or other networks. One particular example concerns location data. Many mobile devices have a GPS sensor that registers the user's location, but even without a GPS sensor, approximate locations can be derived, for example, by monitoring the available wireless networks. As location data linked to the online world of the user's physical environment may have potential for physical harm (stalking, burglary during holidays, etc.), such data are often considered particularly sensitive.
Governments in many countries consider freedom of speech and boundless flow of information a big threat to their power. For this they take many unethical policies regarding IT that directly or indirectly threaten privacy and the freedom of expression of ordinary people. Similarly many powerful nations are trying to control access to privacy through accessing Facebook, Twitter and other data of various social media in the name of combating terrorism and safeguarding so-called national security and interest. They are trying to uphold their supremacy, domination at any cost ignoring morality or ethics. Recording IP (Internet Protocol) log is one such threat to privacy. Here surfing wave sites by a person is recorded. This can be misused by some unethical persons for purposes like blackmailing at any time, damaging image and social dignity of a person. Similarly, cookies are small pieces of data that web sites store in the user's computer, in order to enable personalisation of the site. However, some cookies can be used to track the user across multiple web sites (tracking cookies), enabling, for example, advertisements for a product the user has recently viewed on a totally different site.
This electromechanical civilisation, industrialisation and subsequent revolution in IT have created a wider openness in society. But to a human being and rational creature this openness must have a limitation. In the name of personal freedom, progressiveness, freedom of speech or expression none can violate others' privacy, emotion, belief and social values or norms.
The debates on privacy almost always revolve round new technologies, ranging from genetics and extensive study of bio-markers, brain imaging, drones, wearable sensors and sensor networks, social media, smart phones, closed-circuit television, to government cyber security programmes, direct marketing, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, big data, head-mounted displays and search engines.
While information technology is typically seen as a cause of privacy problems, there are also several ways in which this technology can help solve these problems. There are rules, guidelines or best practices that can be used for designing privacy-preserving systems. Such possibilities range from ethically informed design methodologies to using encryption to protect personal information from unauthorised use.
There are some moral reasons for protection of personal data. The reasons are prevention of harm against unrestricted access to database by others, guarding against information inequality, information injustice and discrimination and encroachment on moral autonomy where lack of privacy may expose individuals to outside forces influencing their choices.
Definition of privacy may be relative in this IT-based 21st century. But as a rational human being, every person must have personal matters that cannot be exposed publicly and should not be accessed or leaked unethically. Similarly, every institution, business entity, state and nation has its own confidential, strategic and sensitive issues which are very much crucial for upholding confidentiality by any means. Otherwise, there might be anarchy in society, conflict among nations and this might be a big threat to the entire mankind.
The writer is a banker.