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The Western intellectual tradition establishes a set of individual rights and duties in society. It focuses on an individual and his or her society's ends. Technology effects the means by which a society can achieve its ends. The technology of the moment is information technology, a special tool that is used both to intrude into people's private space and also to protect it.

Especially intrusive are the new surveillance technologies. The second half of the twentieth century has been witness to the development and use of a host of very effective, often surreptitious, such technologies: Video cameras on the walls or behind mirrors, miniature cameras installed in pens, satellite or aerial cameras above, hidden microphones, invisible wire tapping devices, telephone bugging devices, electronic dishes that can overhear conversations at a great distance, "truth serums," polygraphs, breath analyzers, electronic anklets, voice-stress analyzers, and brain wave analyzers. These are just a few of the many instruments that have been devised to collect personal information. Add to this a wide assortment of technologies that are used more openly such as scanners, card readers, cash registers, teller's machines, and sensors of various types.

The cultural values which encouraged the development of these technologies are also those which guide its use. In our society people place considerable value on information, especially information about other people. They use it to conduct their daily affairs. Some people are actively titillated by obtaining and viewing personal information. Consequently many third parties continually and actively probe for more and more personal information. This probing is technologically feasible and often quite easy to do. But this probing can lead to abuses.

The U.S. Constitution specifically requires that the country's residents submit to a decennial census. Similarly, in the United States today, the IRS may request personal and related information to insure that any citizen's taxes are properly paid. Legal authorities, such as the FBI, CIA and law enforcement officers of other ilk's may probe into the privacy of anyone, such as a potential terrorist, suspected of a crime or intent to commit one, to uncover information about his or her identity, intentions, plans and resources.

A controlling institution's access to personal information, however, must be in keeping with requirements for due process.

"The biggest threat may not be the government or the operator of the Web site you visited late last night, but your business partner, your boss, or even your spouse. Products for monitoring desktop computers have around for years. But until recently they were primarily designed for and marketed to large businesses that worried about employee misuse of Internet access and the company e-mail system. Now, a new wave of low-cost, easy-to-use monitoring products is available to home and small-business users. Dubbed snoopware, these products do everything their large-scale corporate cousins can--and in some cases, even more. Secret computer recording technology disturbs privacy advocates, who worry about possible abuse of spy software. For the moment, such software is virtually unregulated, and its use is spreading rapidly, especially in the corporate world. Earlier this year, an American Management Association survey of over 2100 member firms--many of them among the biggest in the country--found that 74 percent monitored employees' communications, including Internet use, e-mail, computer files, and phone calls. In the corporate world, snoopware has helped uncover crimes such as embezzlement and fraud, but the potential for abuse worries many civil liberties advocates, who view the new technology as eroding personal privacy. "The changing structure and nature of the workplace has led to more invasive and often covert monitoring practices that call into question employees' most basic rights to privacy and dignity," Electronic Privacy Information Center executive director Marc Rotenberg said last summer in support of congressional efforts to curb such practices. Virtually no laws currently restrict employer monitoring of PCs in the workplace, much less home use of snoopware." IDG.net

Employers' monitoring activity 19971 19981 19991 20001
Any type of monitoring activity 35% 43% 45% 74%
Record and review telephone conversations 10% 11% 11% 12%
Store and review voice-mail messages 5% 5% 6% 7%
Store and review computer files 14% 20% 21% 31%
Store and review e-mail messages 15% 20% 27% 38%
Monitor Internet connections not asked not asked not asked 54%
Video-record job performance 16% 16% 16% 15%

1Results reported in March of each year. Numbers reflect percentage of companies reporting activity.


In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Senate passed legislation Sept. 13 to ease restrictions on the surveillance of e-mail traffic and other electronic communications.

An amendment to a $40 billion emergency funding bill would make it dramatically easier for the FBI to use programs such as its controversial Carnivore Internet snooping technology, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, in Washington, D.C., which examines civil liberties issues.

Carnivore - renamed DCS 1000 - provoked a massive outcry when its existence was revealed last year. The FBI uses the technology to screen e-mail traffic. But unlike wiretaps, which are usually aimed at a specific individual, Carnivore examines everyone's e-mail.

Internet users sometimes do not realize the amount of privacy that is lost when accessing the online world. Usenet postings and contributions to bulletin boards may remain archived forever. Public records are available free or for a fee. While much of this information has been freely available in the past, the advent of the Internet has made it available more easily and quickly.


Technology is putting our rights at risk. The information collected by all manner of snooping devices far exceeds what is needed in a "free" society. Unfortunately, the events of 11 September 2001 have given the government the excuse to infringe further in our privacy. The Internet has become a valuable tool of expression and has furthered our technological society. We must remember that governments, by nature, always want to control us a little bit more. Use tools that limit the reach of corporations and governments.


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