ITGS Syllabus

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Topic 45

Privacy of Information in Different Cultures by Matthew Wilder

To discuss the value of privacy, we must first grasp the concept of privacy itself in a clear manner. According to Privacy International, a UK based international NGO group, privacy is the ability of an individual or group to keep their lives and personal affairs out of public view, or to control the flow of information about themselves. The problem with privacy, though, exists in the controling of the flow of information. It is often argued to what degree a person should be allowed to keep private information to himself, and what the consequences of that privacy are.

1. What are the issues associated with this subject?

The issues associated with this subject all essentially boil down to one; the value of privacy. It is important to understand that different people have different values. This is where culture comes into the picture, because a person’s culture greatly affects the person’s value of privacy. Let us examine an example of where differing views of privacy come into conflict. One day, Joe Smith, and American, is hired by a French firm as a district manager in Paris. After several months of low gains, Joe speculates that increasing productivity will raise profits in his office. So to increase productivity, Joe decides that he must make his French employees understand that during office hours, the only thing allowed to be done is work, which means no surfing the internet, no private emails, etc. After Joe sends out an email that notifies his workers of this, Joe then secretly goes on to hire IT people to create a system that allows him to monitor the computer actions of his employees, just like he did when he worked in the United States. He believes that this method works because in the US, he was able to fish out three employees that worked for him who had been regularly sending private emails, and fire them. Low and behold, after two weeks, he finds that Pierre, one of his French workers, has been spending hours on Youtube. Happy with his find, Joe fires Pierre for not following his policy. But two weeks later, Pierre arrives at Joe’s office with two police officers. The police officers take Joe into custody and Pierre regains his job. What happened here? The difference in the value of privacy is exactly what happened here. In France, privacy is widely respected, and the value of privacy is extremely high. It is against EU law (Article 8) for a firm to monitor a person’s use of email, phones, etc. without the employee’s consent. This is very different from the United States, where there exists no law like the one stated above, and people are fired after their computers have been monitored.

2. How did this technology emerge?

The technology related to this issue would be the surveillance methods used by corporations and governments. Surveillance, which ranges anywhere from spyware, and bugs, to phone taps and close circuited video cameras, have mostly emerged from the Cold War era, where the rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union brought about heavy development in spying technology.

3. Who are the stakeholders?
4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of those stakeholders?

The stakeholders in the debate over the value of privacy are the people who’s privacy is being taken away, and the people who take away other peoples’ privacy. When a person’s privacy is taken away, he or she loses a sense of security, while on the other hand, without a person’s private information, certain things in society will not go as efficiently as they could with the private information. For example, stockholders of a company trust the company to be as efficient as possible as to maximize total profit. And in order for a company to be completely efficient, a company must have maximum productivity, and in order for a company to have maximum productivity, managers must make sure that employees are stricty using their work hours only for work. Thus a company may choose to take away privacy in order to maximize productivity. Another example is the government. A government may spy on suspected terrorists in order to prevent future terrorist attacks.

5. What solutions can overcome the problem?

A possible solution to the problem of privacy is to find some kind of point where the trade-off between privacy and efficiency is equal. With this, a level of privacy is attained, while at the same time a degree of efficiency is also achieved. An example of such a solution would be a take-it-or-leave-it approach. In this approach, a company would tell a person about the company’s monitoring policies before he or she was hired and then the person would choose if he or she really wanted to go on and work at the company. But a downside to this would be that many people would choose not to work at such a company with little freedom. So then you would have to put in some kind of policy after a person was hired. The problem though, with this comes with each person’s differing values on privacy. Because of the different views on privacy, it would be difficult to place one specific policy on a group of people, because the policy would only satisfy a number of people and make another sum of people unhappy. Thus it would be necessary to alter the policy according to the views on privacy by each and every person.

6. What areas of impact does it affect?

The obvious area of impact in this issue is the privacy of the individual, and how that changes with the person’s culture.

7. Evaluate the impact locally and globally.

Because the topic is privacy of information in different cultures, the impact is of a global nature. For example, when the United Nations gather to meet and discuss human rights, specifically the right of a person to have privacy, and how much power a government should have to breach that privacy, different nations will have different opinions. On one hand, countries like Japan where privacy has an extremely high value (it is illegal for a Japanese school to publish and distribute to students phone chains that have students’ phone numbers and home addresses), may give governments very little control over people’s privacy. On the other hand, the U.S., which has an extremely aggressive foreign policy, may want extensive power over people’s private information in order to catch terrorist, etc.

8. What are the ethical issues?

The ethical issue is not so much whether a person should have any privacy, because basic laws in most civilized countries allow privacy as a basic human right, but more so how much privacy a person should have. One could argue that because privacy is a human right, people should have complete control over their private information. But what if a person’s privacy was actually hurting the person and/or the people in his or her life? Take random drug testing for example. Random drug tests are an obvious breach of personal privacy, but it is done for a person, and for society’s benefit.

9. Who is responsible?
10. Who is accountable?

It is hard to say who specifically would be responsible for this argument over privacy. Would it be governments who spy on their citizens? Or would it be the companies that use surveillance methods against their employees? Personally I would have to say that it was the fault of the people who try to gain private information, whether it is justified or not.

11. What laws apply?

• Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 says ”No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
• France’s Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen explicitly state the protection of privacy
• United Kingdom’s Data Protection Act 1998
• Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act
• Israel, Taiwan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, Peru constitutions and privacy protection laws

12. Are there alternative decisions?

One alternative for workplace privacy is to allow for some monitoring policies, but not make the policies unknown to people. People could be given reports each month or so on the history of their computer usage for that month. This will especially work in the workplace because employees will know that they are being checked for, and they will know exactly what the employers know about them. This alternative will still provide an incentive for workers to stay on task while at the same time lowering the level of privacy intrusion in the sense that the workers know which aspects of their activities are being inspected.

13. What are the consequences of these decisions?

The only consequence of this decision is that people may not like their activities monitored, and so may quit for those reasons. This may lead to an increased unpopularity in the company, and so the company may ultimately have to repeal its policies.

2 Comments -Show Original Post Collapse comments

Joseph Toyoshima said...

Given that this topic is an extremely complicated and difficult one, you have done really well in laying out the basic concepts that define this topic. Your realistic example referring to differnece in value of privacy between cultures greatly simplfied the topic.

December 11, 2006 11:46 AM

Simon Ruiz said...

What are the possible consequences of which if the society values privacy excessively? (regardless of efficiency and basdic human rights)

December 14, 2006 9:32 PM


Blogger Juju said...

This is an undoubtedly complicated topic but the realistic example that was given in your essay had made it much easier for me to understand your topic. another good essay

January 07, 2007 10:31 PM  
Blogger XiaoxiaoLi said...

I really like your point regarding the ethical issue. You said that it is not so much whether a person should have any privacy, but more so how much privacy a person should have. While one culture cannot measure the ethical system of another, this is certainly the main common issue in most.

January 08, 2007 12:57 AM  
Blogger akirajackson said...

I think the value of privacy depends on the culture and the environment that surrounds the people.

January 16, 2007 8:19 PM  

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