Surveillance: an additional cost

I was just reading “Privacy and Positive Intellectual Freedom” by Alan Rubel from the Fall 2014 issue of Journal of Social Philosophy (vol. 45, no. 3, pp. 390-407).

The article includes several ideas that I’d like to write about in the future. This post might simplify the argument about surveillance and intellectual freedom.

The section that explains the harms of surveillance is complicated.  With other privacy violations, it’s easy to connect the dots. How does surveillance affect an individual who will never be aware of the surveillance?

The surveillance’s victim is not the only actor in the situation. The people who are controlling that surveillance are also part of the equation. It’s easy to show that the surveillance is harming their intellectual freedom.

They know that they, themselves, can be monitored. They lose the same freedoms that can be taken by other privacy violations.

Power Imbalances

In situations where privacy problems appear, there is often an imbalance of power. One of the parties in the interaction can make decisions without the consent of the other. Additionally, the other doesn’t have the ability to counteract these decisions. They may not have sufficient influence. They may not know about the decisions. They may be excluded from having the right to affect the decisions.

To identify what areas of privacy I want to study, I believe having a list of privacy actors could be helpful to weed out things that are important to me and I’m interested in. I’ll group the actors into categories.

There are other agents affecting privacy, but they do not involve a strong power imbalance. Those aren’t included in this list. Some of entities here that have their powers affected by legislation such as FERPA and HIPAA. This includes Medical providers, financial institutions, intermediaries and educational institutions and any government agency.

This table primarily concerns Solove’s Information Collection, Information Processing and Information Dissemination privacy problems. It doesn’t address the Invasion privacy problems.

Agents that collect data that has economic value to themselves or may sell it

  • Financial institutions such as banks, lenders, investment agencies and debt collectors. They collect detailed financial information.
  • Online merchants. Their privacy policies are difficult to influence.
  • Brick and Mortar Merchants. They can capture information about purchases and payment services such as credit cards. They also don’t need to document their policies.
  • Insurance companies. They want information that helps them decide insurability.

Agencies that work behind the scenes yet they impact privacy rights

  • Technology infrastructure providers. Both internet service providers and service provides like cable companies. They can decide privacy policies that the individual cannot refuse.
  • Technology manufacturers. Once something is manufactured, whether it is an automobile, smart phone, computer or internet of things object, users doesn’t have the ability to change the information it controls.
  • Data warehouses. The collect information and individuals have no control over what is there, how accurate it is or what it will be used for.

Also financial institutions and brick and mortar merchants can work behind the scenes.

Agencies with legal right to acquire some personal knowledge

  • Government agencies such as the license branch and IRS have more control over the information than the information source.
  • Law enforcement. They gather information for criminal prosecution. They can also request information that you are not obligated to give, but it is difficult to say no. For example, they may ask to see your smart phone.
  • The judicial branch of the government. Criminal cases and civil disputes can include private information.
  • Educational institutions may accumulate many forms information. This information may be available to future employers, loan and scholarship providers and funding sources for the school itself.
  • Medical providers. The collect detailed protected health information.

Also financial institutions.

Agents that make privacy decisions that in practice have no recourse. These entities are distinguished in that the individual is aware that they are interacting with the agents.

  • Technology service providers. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, multimedia sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Soundcloud, search engines like Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo, information sources like Wikipedia, Reddit and StackExchange. Some are near monopolies and thus have more power than an individual who needs to use their services.
  • Library service providers. Entities that control services used by the library such as the ILS and information resources such as databases and specialized services can set their own policies that the library or its patrons may not influence.

Also online merchants.

Agents that can affect privacy through surveillance

  • Employers. They can capture information about employee activities.
  • Intermediaries like the telephone network that have specific legal responsibilities but may also be used to gather information about transactions they assist.

Also law enforcement, government agencies, and the judicial branch of the government.

Data warehouse are not in this category because although they may enable surveillance, they are normally not the agents performing the surveillance

Agents that may find legal protection when they threaten privacy

  • Media outlets, publishers and online bloggers or similar publishers. They can disclose private materials without the individual’s consent or easy recourse.

Privacy Glossary S – Z

This is part of assignment one for the Privacy directed readings class.

Samuel D. Warren & Louis D. Brandeis The authors of the 1890 paper “The Right to Privacy” published in the Harvard Law Review, Dec. 15, 1890. The paper discusses the issue of privacy from the point of view of tort injuries. The paper defines a right to privacy and situations for which it does not apply including that the information is of general interest, that the information is slanderous or libelous, that it would not apply to oral publication, but would apply to written publication, and that the information had been published by the person involved. Also, the truth of the matter published or the lack of malice by the publisher are not defenses.

As Richards explains in “Intellectual Privacy,” this definition has been gradually affected by the existence of free speech rights from the constitution that eliminates many of the corresponding restrictions.

Secondary Use The privacy problem of use of information given for one purpose for other purposes. Secondary use can include selling one’s address and phone number to a marketing firm. Another is to use the information in other of Solove’s privacy problems such as the aggregation of information.

An additional form of secondary use comes when information is gathered through surveillance that is legally permitted for other purposes that do not have the approval of legislation. For example, using records captured by the NSA and GCHQ to assist criminal investigations unrelated to the intent of the surveillance.

Secrecy The concept that only one individual knows a piece of information. Generally, U.S. courts distinguish secrecy and confidentiality, when, normally, people consider them interchangeable.
Secrecy paradigm The concept that information to be protected by privacy laws must not be shared with other people. If information is shared with others, it is no longer secret and has lower protections. This paradigm ignores the natural concept of personal confidences and information shared only within a set group.
Security The right to be safe. In addition to physical safety, one wants emotional safety and the security to disagree with others, even governments or other power centers. Some privacy problems reduce security by giving the individual less control over their actions.
Social norms Privacy is defined and constrained by social norms. In different societies and at different times expectations of privacy are different.

For example, in western, modern societies, the home is not open to other to enter freely. In other societies, that behavior is acceptable. These change the members of those societies understanding of what is a private space or not. On the other hand, in the past, some forms of privacy were desirable, but not available. The privacy of one’s bed was not always practical but sexual activity was still desired to be private, even when that is difficult.

Standard Universal Identifier For the purpose of surveillance and information processing privacy problems, the existence of a standard universal identifier enhances the ability for these problems to appear. Often, there is protest against the creation of them such as a national ID card. Others are not as obvious so that Real ID licenses are less controversial.
Surveillance The privacy problem of gathering information about an individual or group without their consent. This can include using cameras, recorders or logs of phone calls and internet usage. Surveillance has a chilling effect on individual choices by changing behavior. Surveillance has beneficial qualities such as assisting with criminal investigations, but it also can be used to enforce norms of society too strictly. Having radical beliefs and acting in unconventional ways can be impeded by surveillance activities.
Telephone In privacy terms, the telephone’s regulation has changed over time. Until 1967 courts permitted surveillance of telephones. Due to the crime control act passed in 1968, domestic wiretaps must approved by state or federal courts. International investigations require approval by a separate Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act court created in 1978.
The right to be let alone The principle that others, and especially governments, should not be able to interfere with ones privacy and seclusion.
The right to read freely The right to gather information freely. The access to reading records such as library borrowing patterns is protected. The ability to purchase literature and own allows one to become a more valuable member of a democratic society. In “Intellectual Privacy,” Richards points out the paradox that one may purchase literature very discretely though the use of electronic books but that the information of purchases are kept outside of privacy protections.
Tort A system of law in which an injured party may receive restitution for the injuries.
United Declaration Universal Declaration of Human Rights A charter of human rights enacted after WW II that included privacy provisions.
What privacy entails? Privacy is multidimensional. The ideas that represent privacy and privacy rights violations cannot be unified into a single definition. The effects of decisional interference don’t correspond to the problems caused by aggregation of information.
Whispering wires Early court decisions about the privacy of telephones regarding telephone conversations and wiretapping lead to the labeling them as “whispering wires” At the time, party lines where several homes share the same telephone circuit were common and the ability to listen to others conversations was much easier.