Summary of four months privacy-news
For the last four months of year 2007, I bookmarked all articles concerning privacy issues in my webbrowser. I didn’t actually search for them. When I caught my eye on one, I saved it. So I might have missed a few topic matters as well, but the purpose of this blog-message is not to give a complete and detailed list of privacy-threats. My aim is to show some recent developments in the field of privacy anywhere in the world.
In the month of September the Superintendant of the Amsterdam police, Bernard Welten, predicted that, within 10 years, Dutch shopkeepers will ask their potential customers to identify themselves before giving them permission to enter their store. By comparing the identity of the potential customer with the identities of known shop-lifters, the shopkeepers could protect themselves better from crimes against property. At the moment Dutch police investigates systems which can be used to swap information with entrepreneurs. In the cities of Amstelveen and Haarlem retailers can already visit a special website to find pictures of notorious shop-lifters.(1)
Avoiding recidivism was the reason to come into action for the police of the city of Baltimore (Pennsylvania, United States of America) too. Their target group weren’t however shop-lifters, but paedophiles.(2) During the celebration of Halloween, the 31st of October, condemned paedophiles had to place warning signs into their front gardens saying:
No Candy At This Residence. In addition to the signs, they were advised in a letter to stay home, leave their lights off and refuse to answer their doors.(3) The Baltimore case doesn’t however stand on its own. Several other states, including Delaware, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia and Texas have taken commensurable precautionary measures.
In the same month the Washington Post printed a story about new attention of the Kremlin in Russia for the internet. According to the newspaper, q>there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network—one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control.(4) The use of the internet by Russian adults has risen from 8 percent in 2002 to 26 percent in 2007. By that, cyberspace has become an issue of increasing concern for the government.
In November 2007, the Japanese government enforced a new bill in the war on terrorism. Or rather, they re-enforced a rule that was earlier (2000) repealed for privacy reasons. As from the twentieth of November, all foreign visitors age 16 years or older entering the country, are fingerprinted and photographed. With this measure, Japan follows the example of the United States of America.(5) According to an article of CBC News,
the images will be checked against those in international crime and terrorism databases, as well as domestic crime records, and then stored for an unspecified time.(6)
In the October-section of this blog-message I mentioned a Russian plan in genesis. A plan of which critics fear it will give the Russian government to much power to examine its inhabitants doings and dealings. The same objections were made one month later, when the French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented an agreement with the French content industry.(7) They concurred a new organ of state will permanently guard the internet-use of French consumers to check if they up- or download illegal content: music, movies or e-books. If somebody is found guilty of using illegal content for the third time, the offender might lose his internet connection. To implement the plan, a lot of French laws concerning civil rights, data-protection, telecommunication and copyright must be amended.(8) According to
Anne Pigeon-Bormans(9), a French Lawyer, the news measure will not bring in the wished results. Anyway, the new bill can not be introduced before spring 2008. That is, if a majority of the French parliament declares itself in agreement with the proposal.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the government of New Jersey introduced - in imitation of the American States of Florida and Nevada - new rules to avoid that convicted sex offenders will use the internet again to find new victims. The bill forces them to let the State Parole Board know about their access to computers, submit themself to periodic, unannounced examinations of their computer equipment and install equipment on their computer so its use can be monitored.(10) Moreover they are not allowed to browse the internet anymore, except for computer work done as part of a job or search for employment. Condemned people who get caught using the internet risk 2,5 years imprisonment and a 10.000 dollar fine.(11)
In this blog-message I outlined some recent developments in different countries touching the doctrine of privacy. I think we can distinguish them between three groups. The first group consists in developments that are mend to protect society from a possible yet not directly provable threat. Terrorism or crimes against property for example. They might occur, but we don’t know when, where or by whom. The second group is formed by measures that might be used to keep an eye on society members to hunt down lawbreakers or people who might dispute the official norms and values of the current leaders. Here the safeguarding of society is not the mean reason to limit privacy protection. The main goal is to have more accurate means to fight violations of the law or to oppress political opponents. The third and final group exists of developments to prevent recidivism by known convicts. Sometimes this is done by organising extra attention for the doings and dealings of this people by public institutions. Once in a while by giving warnings to their environment as well.
In all situations described above, the authorities had a imaginable reason to limit the right of privacy from one or more people. It is the connecting thread of the three groups. In order to protect us from danger, we have to give up some of our autonomy and our privacy. But we can not avoid all dangers and disasters life has in store for us. The question is if we can find the right balance between the privacy protection on the one hand and our wish to escape from feasible risks on the other.
Published: 5 January 2008 by Edward Brüheim
- Troianovski and Peter Finn, Kremlin Seeks To Extend Its Reach in Cyberspace, Washington Post, 28 October 2008.
- Dimitri Reijerman, Franse president wil piraten internettoegang ontzeggen, Tweakers.net, 23 November 2007.
- N.J. Ewing, Sex offenders are barred from internet by New Jersey, New York Times, 28 December 2007.