ML-07-02 Privacy Rights and Responsibilities

Privacy can perhaps be defined as a state, free from public attention, in which one is not observed or disturbed by others. In some parts of the world, privacy is defined as the right to be left alone, or freedom from interference or intrusion.

Information privacy is the right to have some control over how your personal information is collected and used.

Information in the public domain

Public information, normally refers to information about us that is known to others, generally to do with government records and services. For a government to serve the public, it must know information about each citizen to ensure that services and record keeping are associated with the correct individuals. This information is kept in what may be referred to as the public record. Each citizen has a unique identity (perhaps an identity number), and records relating to each citizen are linked to this identity. Birth records, death records, marriage records, criminal records, land ownership and other records relating to the management of social order and service entitlement are kept.

Information in the public record, is open to public inspection. Some of the information is open to all members of the public to inspect, and some of it may restricted in terms of public access. It is possible, knowing a person’s identity, to be able to access public records. 

Information that is private

Now that the internet, networks for accessing the internet, mobile devices and social media services are in broad use, more and more information is being captured, stored and shared. With immediate access to large volumes of data and information about specific individuals, we become more concerned about privacy, and in particular information privacy.

Information that we consider confidential or private, should not be open to all. The question remains as to what it is that should be private. Is it about our habits, our relationships, our medical status, our financial status?

How should information that we consider private be protected?

Sharing information relating to other people

Do we have a right to share information about others? How do you feel if you find others sharing information about you that you thought should be confidential?

What goes online, stays online

As we move information onto social media service applications, as well as other online applications, we must realise that the record keeping controls and privacy controls may no longer be in our hands. Once the information is posted and stored, other parties that may or may not be known to us could access, copy, share and even modify the information. Do we have control over our information that we consider private? Do the tools and application services we use give us the appropriate level of control to protect how our data is accessed and used?

The law in the real, physical world

Crimes and crime prevention in the real, physical world have developed alongside each other for a long time. Laws have been enacted that address forms of crime for example fraud, theft, misrepresentation and impersonation,

Theft of physical property, as well as physical representation of identity is covered in relevant laws. A mature balance exists between type of crimes and legal responses.

The law in the virtual, digital world

Information in this world is in a digital form. Information can be replicated, moved, stored in multiple formats and locations. Information can be accessed using multiple tools, from anywhere, anytime. Access to, and the distribution of information may or may not be recorded for audit and control purposes. Proof of who accessed information, as opposed to which device and which network was used to access the information, is often difficult. How information is stored and secured may result in access breaches and information being shared without permission.

The definition of laws relating to crime prevention and prosecution in the virtual, digital world, follows technology developments by quite some time. As a result of technology developments, new services, new work processes, new ways of dealing with information have arisen and the laws need to catch up with the societal impact that technology has had.

Key Points

  • Whether or not we like it, we are all participating in an online digital world
  • The digital world mirrors the real world. It offers the opportunity to interact and we need to understand the rules of engagement and the risks.
  • Privacy in an online world is more challenging than in the real world. Information is shared further, faster and on record forever.

Laws in the online worlds are not at the same stage of maturity as they are in the real world. We need to govern ourselves ethically where we cannot rely on the law.