catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 22 :: 2003.11.21 — 2003.12.04


Privacy in our Modern Age

It’s safe to assume that if you were living in Greece, sometime in the 5th century B.C., your name and where you ate lunch would not be known centuries after your death. In fact unless you were a great philosopher like Socrates or Plato, or perhaps a historian named Herodotus, you are unlikely to make it into any official records from this period at all. However, skip 2500 years into the future and that lunch you just bought at a local restaurant with your debit card has recorded you into a vast vault of archived information.

The Information Age has, for many, made life easier and less complex. As a student, the wealth of information on the Web has made researching a lot simpler. It can even be done sitting comfortably in your room while chatting online to someone across the world. Seems like a harmless situation right? Well, browsing the web may not be as safe as it seems. Every time you browse (it sounds so innocent) you are releasing personal information to a number of sources. But don’t be disturbed. Everyday we release personal information just by having our telephone numbers listed in the White pages. To be honest, most of us reveal our whereabouts constantly by using debit cards, driving on most toll highways or being caught on surveillance cameras.

Today our commercial world is driven by the demands of the consumer, regardless of our privacy. Companies spend thousands of dollars on research to track the next trend and they need consumer input to do it. The Internet is no different. Ever get annoyed by those pop-up ads? Well, they are more sophisticated than you think. Those friendly “cookies” that you obtain from every Internet site actually records information on what you have looked at. Some companies will then use this information for the next time you visit their site where a pop-up ad designed for you will appear. How far will this technology go? Perhaps the movie Minority Report gives us a glimpse of the future when personal information is extracted from an eye-scan that in turn displays advertising designed specifically to that person’s interests.

The issue of increased privacy has grown as technology continues to progress. The late Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau once remarked, “The State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation.” But that was 35 years ago and times have changed. Now Canadians are asking for more privacy. The Federal government addressed this concern in 2000 with the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. This act is designed to restrict the private sector as well as the government from disclosing personal information. The results won’t be clear for a few years since the act is being phased in until 2004. This still leaves the question of who will own this information.

Then there is the issue of how the invasion of privacy actually protects us. South of the border privacy laws protecting the rights of people have almost been non-existent since the events of 9/11. It is true that the events of that tragic day might have been prevented if the American government had gathered more information on those who attacked their nation. Yet, the citizens of the United States have always felt the “Big Brother is watching” syndrome and are unlikely to allow acts that invade privacy when the terrorist scare is over.

At Redeemer University College the privacy issue is also confronted. On registration day all Redeemer students are handed a sheet of paper, which asks permission to make their personal information public. Most returning students never even take the time to read the sheet as they know it pertains to the publication of the BOD book (a student directory). For those first-year students who questioned this, well done. It is always good to know where your personal information is going to be published. The BOD book is a useful resource of personal information at Redeemer and has served its purpose well. It is a great way to match names and faces and it helps create a close community. The important thing to note is that this information is meant to improve our community and not to invade the privacy of our brothers and sisters. This is just one example of how students can react to privacy issues in a positive way.

But what about the rest of us who are constantly being asked to give out our personal information? Is the privacy issue something that we should be concerned about? Yes and no. Sure, maybe you should use cash more often, refrain from swiping those credit/debit cards and only use your social insurance number when required. Then again, maybe the issue isn’t just about privacy, but rather our need to feed a materialistic lifestyle by generating consumer information. You make the call. In retrospect, maybe we should just be content that at least somewhere in the annals of history our names will be recorded. And lunch? Well, I hope it was worth the price of your privacy.

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