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THE PRIVACY RIGHTS IN QUESTION

ARE NEW LAWS THE ANSWER?

THE TECHNOLOGICAL ARENAS

THE PRIVACY RIGHTS IN QUESTION

The four major technological arenas we are examining are:

  • Telecommunication Systems
  • Computerized Bulletin Board Systems
  • Private Data Bases
  • Governmental Data Bases
  • The major privacy rights and related rights which need to be examined and discussed are:
  • Rights of individuals to privacy in their telecommunications.
  • Rights of individuals to privacy concerning personalized information related to them held in computerized data bases.
  • Rights of individuals and corporations to control proprietary information owned by them and held in computerized data bases.
  • Rights of individuals who operate data bases to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Rights of data base operators to protect their privacy from unauthorized intrusion.
  • Rights of BBS operators to limited protection from liability for illegal or defamatory information posted on their BBS without their knowledge or consent.
  • Rights of governmental agencies to pursue legitimate law enforcement investigations and collect authorized information for legitimate governmental functions.

Both the President's Privacy Committee and a similar study commission established by Congress issued excellent reports calling for Congressional and Executive action and industry cooperation to forestall the foreseeable problems relating to privacy engendered by the rapid increase in the use of computerized data systems and electronic data transfer technology. Unfortunately, with the exception of certain provisions of the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, little has been done to protect privacy rights and establish responsibility and liability for abuses and errors resulting form the proliferation of electronic information systems.

ARE NEW LAWS THE ANSWER?

New laws are already being passed in state legislatures and in Washington, D.C. It makes sense to make sure the new laws reflect a concern for privacy rights and other Constitutional issues as well as an accurate picture of how the new technologies actually function, both physically and in use. Senator Charles Mathias gives us the broad perspective regarding telecommunications, privacy and the law:

    "The uses of these new networks - and that means all of us - expect legal protection against unwarranted interceptions of this communications stream, whether by overzealous law-enforcement officers or private snoops. But the law as it now stands may not provide protection. Under the 1968 wiretap law, the privacy of our communications may turn on technical questions - whether or not the communication is carried by wire, whether it is analog or digital in form. These questions are simply irrelevant to the legitimate expectations of those who transmit and receive information in today's communications networks.

    "We missed one opportunity to plug this loophole in 1984. Last October [1984], Congress passed the first federal computer-crime law. It outlaws, under certain circumstances, unauthorized intrusions into computer databases, but it ignores the question of interception of communications between those computers. To use a low technology analogy, it's now a crime to steal a letter from my mail box, but not to grab it from the letter carrier before it's delivered. I hope that this anomaly can be corrected...."

Having set this stage, let's bring on the players and their stories and review the elements of drama, comedy, tragedy and farce. Through the examples and incidents described here, we can come to appreciate the problem confronting us in attempting to formulate solutions. Since one stumbling block to an intelligent discussion of these matters is that some people are completely mystified by computer technology, I will err on the side of fuller example and explanation than normally warranted in such a discussion.

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