Just like in chapter 3, Forester and Morrison manage to compile an entire set of issues (or ethical dilemmas as they call it) and examples. Although their intentions were to clarify the issues, F&M did one heck of a job in putting together a series of things that are somewhat related. In doing so, they managed to confuse the heck out of me. I did not agree with the fact that F&M threw in a bunch of examples of cases of misfortune involving privacy-related things and databases. I think F&M succeeded and pointing out the a few mishaps and take them to be common occurrences. Otherwise isolated incidents are blown out of proportion just to coincide with F&M's point. I few pages later, F&M states that these are extreme instance and acknowledges that for the most part frustration and/or embarrassment are usually the results of the mishaps.
This particular subject is so touchy (and broad thanks to F&M) that I do not want to make any general claims for the fear that I will contradict regarding certain privacy issues. Even if I was elected the US Grand Chancellor of Computer affairs, I do not think that I could confidently make any decisions regarding privacy. With that said, I will not make any specific decisions about privacy issues without being fully aware of both sides of the particular issue that I am deciding upon.
I tend to feel that privacy is more important than some corporation or government knowing all kinds of things about me. I am somewhat convinced by the "slippery slope/Pandora's box" arguments that say once we start monitoring and invading privacy it will only get worse. However, this is more of an intellectual position than something that I actually act on. I buy things on-line, I have a credit card, I'm sure I already have quite a paper trail. I'm willing to put up with some amount of record-keeping and monitoring because it seems as if it would be difficult for our society to operate without it. Nevertheless, when it comes to monitoring people who haven't done anything wrong just to try and catch them if they ever do, to me that takes us too far down the 'group rights' over 'individual rights' road. As I'm sure I've said before, I'm willing to sacrifice some assurance of personal safety, security, and assured ease of access to technologies for some amount of privacy.
I think that computers have increased both the efficiency and privacy-invading capacities of organizations. The problem is that there's a potential 'dark side' to every useful technology. Computers help us catch criminals and track epidemics and just keep better and more accessible records in general, but over-reliance on these records can cause big problems (like those outlined in the chapter). Our society has come to some conclusions about when we think it's reasonably necessary for privacy to be sacrificed for security or efficiency (think Caller-ID, definitely less controversial now than when the book was written). However, we are less sure about when it is appropriate to cross the line into downright surveillance, and who should be doing the crossing.
The way I see it, and the chapter points out, individual interests (privacy) have always been at odds with group/organizational interests (information). I don't think there is a perfect solution to the dilemma, but it seems a reasonable compromise could be made. I believe that individuals have a right to know when they are being listed in a database and exactly what it says about them in there. I believe that is the company's responsibility. All this, you can request a free copy stuff does not cut it for me because if you don't know the database exists, how are you going to know to do that? No, the company should automatically notify you. After all, it's not like they don't have your contact info. And if they're really interested in distributing information, wouldn't it be more effective to have more ACCURATE information? I'm afraid I know the answer to my own question though, which is simply that companies that specialize in these sort of information enterprises really aren't concerned with accuracy at all, since they're main goal, as good little capitalists, is to make money. Maybe this class is turning all of us into socialists! :)
Seriously though, I think the most disappointing part of the reading was the part where they talked about how all this sale of information hasn't actually helped the market at all. At the expense of all these people who've been victims of false information! So what's the point?
Going back to my point about how we should have the right to access and correct info about us? Even if they somehow had a website where we could access our own files and update them ourselves. I would feel most confident that they had the right info on me if I could do that. But then there would be more security issues to contend with... the never-ending vicious cycle. It seems all the chapters of this book are interrelated!
On the continuum from total privacy to total efficiency...hmmmm...I'd like both really, but I think that privacy is the paramount concern. Social efficiency is only truely justified when we are acting as humans, not robots. Computers give people too much information that they don't have any business accessing, and they seem to fail to preserve an individual's privacy. I thought this F & M reading was a little better than the rest, and I liked the point they made about how unwilling institutions can be to doubt the accuracy of computer data despite the numerous incidents of mistaken identities and mismatched information cases. Funny we can trust machines easier than humans in this case, and what is that really saying about efficiency and quality of life? Privacy is critical to quality of life, efficiency narrowmindedness often becomes subversive to that quality. Society needs to think about what they are doing and saying in order for us to reach the balance between freedom and individuality collectively. I think a balance can be achieved, though I don't know how. Computers give institutions too much knowledge, too much power. It's all too invasive--especially work monitoring devices. I hate being treated like part of a machine.
With regard to privacy in the workplace: I wouldn't say that either (privacy or efficiency) is more important than the other. Personal freedom and privacy are certainly very important; at the same time, I can certainly see that employers are concerned with employees slacking off or abusing this freedom. I want to say that some degree of supervision based on these concerns is warranted, but it seems to imply a degree of distrust that can't possibly be good for the employer-employee dynamic. I suppose, though, that it's all about the level and manner in which a company goes about maintaining this efficiency.
On a broader level, as in cases where something like national security is at stake, then generally speaking, I don't think I could object to some infringement on peoples' individual rights/privacy. The question, of course, is where to draw the line, which is a hugely difficult question. Whether the kind of surveillance the chapter talks about is in the workplace or is undertaken by governmental bodies, precisely because you have individuals or groups of individuals making decisions about what level of infringement crosses the line, the answer to this quesiton is bound to be very subjective. An invasion of privacy that seems justified to one person may seem completely outrageous to another. It would be nice to simply be able to trust that those making these kinds of decisions will do so responsibly, and not abuse the power that they have. I am skeptical, however, of the extent to which we can do so.
Privacy should never be sacrificed for efficiency. There can be no balance when dealing with absolute concept. Individual freedom and individual rights should not be sacrificed on moral grounds. The right of privacy enjoys a long legal tradition of protection in English law and has been embraced by the American government. If certain individual rights are removed, more will follow. Each encroachment of human liberty should be rejected as should each encroachment on human life. Humans are born and should remain radically free.
Computer databanks are beyond the control of individuals and frequently exert power over the individuals. Computer databanks are able to ruin reputation, financial credit, and life itself. Computer databanks serve the interest of large corporations and government by processing large amounts of information at a fast rate and producing generally random outcomes. Should the interests of corporations and government be placed above the interests of the people? Corporations and government believe so.
I think I stand very near the middle on that particular continuum. While I think it is very important for a person to have a right to privacy, I also see the merit in databases and some limited information sharing. I think I lean a little toward privacy, but I still don't want to completely give up the idea that people should be kept track of for important reasons; that these systems occasionally don't work properly isn't as important as the functions which they (the systems) serve. I think it's possible for a balance to be achieved between the two, but I doubt that will happen any time soon . . . I suspect we will get closer and closer to that balance, though, as time goes on.
Computers affect the balance in that they often make the protection and efficiency aspect of the continuum come much more into the light. Movies like "The Net" have helped people realize that privacy is an increasingly important issue; however, I feel that as much as this has brought more publicity to the issue, it hasn't really hurt it or helped it much; it's easier to track people but more likely that records can be tampered with or mistaken. I suspect privacy and protection issues are complementary AND at odds, because both are important (at least in my eyes), and both seem to have proponents and opponents who very strongly will fight for their causes. I'm not sure how to resolve that, but I think time will tell on this issue as technology advances and people either start defending themselves more or just give up and fall over, which is something I hope never happens.
That's a lot of questions...I kind of have a split mind on this issue. Part of me says "yes, the government collecting information about me is horrible, they are violating my constitutional rights and should be stopped." The other part says "what's the big deal? All of this information about me is out there anyway. None of it is anything that has been coerced from me. What's the difference if it's in 20 places or 1?
I think privacy is definitely something that should be guarded, because there are people who will take advantage of information. While I don't think computers are directly responsible for problems, our faith in them is. The idea that "if it's in the computer, it must be right" is quite scary. (Ever seen _The Net_? Awful movie, but real problems) It doesn't ever seem to occur to people that the information didn't just appear magically in the computer (or, maybe that's exactly what they think happens) and that a human had to put it in there and could have made mistakes, or that the information is in error. I think the problem is not in the computers but in the reliability of people who rely on computers.
As a note, reading this chapter finally made me go and look at a copy of
my credit history. I've been meaning to do it for a while, but the
paranoia this chapter gave me was a final kick in the pants. (You, too,
can find our your credit history at
Of course, I found some nasty surprises that I now have to deal with.
Thank you, Forester and Morrison, for making my life more stressful. :)
Since the beginning of this line of questioning is so decisive, and I'm not exactly sure, I'll try to work backwards and reach an answer through the questions. I think that privacy and protection are at odds, especially in this day and age of globalization. Privacy should be protected, but part of protecting one's self is having an awareness of other impending dangers. I guess an analogous issue is the public revealing of sexual offenders when they move into a new neighborhood. But in the connected world, it is difficult to navigate the thin line that runs between privacy and protection. This segways into the role that computers play, since they are basically responsible for the interconnected nature of today's world. They sort of strip people of their individual rights if they choose to partake in the internet. Granted that you own your own computer, but once that phone line is plugged into the back, the world may be at your fingertips, but you are also exposed to the world. It is the responsibility of organizations to ensure public privacy, but they seem to be lacking in this department.
I think that privacy is more important than efficiency. There is a balance that can be achieved, but it weighs heavily in favor of privacy. As far as social surveillance and such, I am thoroughly opposed. The world has existed for a long time as a modern society without an all-knowing watchful eye, and there is no reason to assume that there is a necessary place for such an institution.
So... I guess i find myself standing more towards total privacy than total efficiency, if one must be sacrificed for the other. Not all the way to total privacy, but about halfway between there and the middle point.
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