How much do we really value our privacy?

Databases. Security cameras. IP addresses. These are some of the most popular swear words in the privacy world at the moment, and if you you wait a little longer, add GPS trackers and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) cameras to the list as well. Privacy groups are convinced that the personal lives of everyone are quickly becoming threatened from the advancements in technology.

However, is technology really being used as a weapon towards our privacy, or is it in fact a vital tool in the solving and prevention of crime, and a way of making life easier?

Today, it seems every part of our lives can be logged, recorded or tracked. If I take the car to the nearest shopping centre, my journey will be logged by cameras on the motorway, sending the car's number plate to a huge database. If I decide to go for a walk in the countryside, all it takes is my mobile phone to be switched on in order for me to be tracked, as all the police need is a mobile number in order to track my phone based on the nearest mobile phone towers. If I decide to do some shopping on the net, that too will be logged, as is every website I visit is logged by my ISP. Pretty creepy. But is it worth it?

Security services used the surveillance features above during the 7 July bombings in London, and being able to use these methods of surveillance was vital in the process of identifying the attackers. CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) cameras often provide evidence that would otherwise leave many crimes unsolvable. However, sometimes our privacy is invaded not just for the sake of crime prevention.

We are giving information to private-sector companies and websites all the time. Sometimes the information is personal, sometimes it's not. But as consumers and users, we rarely put privacy first, and it ends up as a side thought. Unfortunately, it's often the same for companies and websites developers, particularly the latter. Website developers are just that: developers – not lawyers or security advisers. When you submit your information to a website, where does your information go? Does the company destroy your data the moment it's no longer necessary, or do they store it? It is questions like these that need answering, both in the public sector and the private sector.

It's easy to blame other people though. Although the government and other organisations have questions to answer, when it comes to looking after our own information, many of us are far too careless. The problem is that we, as consumers, would rather have convenience over privacy. We'd rather have our browsers be helpful and suggestive based on browser usage from the past, even if it does mean anyone could see what you've been up to on the net for the last week. We'd rather have our social networking privacy settings set so we broadcast our details to a larger range of people, even if it means our data could be in the sight of people we might not be so friendly with. We can't have our cake and eat it; if we want better privacy, we should be prepared to lose some benefits.

The truth is, although the government could do more to look after our personal data, such as updating and enforcing the Data Protection Act, they provide us with plenty of information regarding how to look after our information, including the Freedom of Information Act, allowing us to find out what information a public-sector organisation holds about us, as long as it's not a security risk. The harsh reality is that we, the consumers, need to look after our data. Sure, you can't help being filmed by CCTV cameras in the street, and you can't help having your DNA sample put in the police database on a case, even if you're not found to be guilty. But you can turn up your privacy settings on Facebook so only your closer friends can find your address, and you can configure your browser to only store what it needs to. It's time to up the value of our privacy.

Technology is definitely a tool to assist us, however, I don't think we should be using surveillance features that offer more than what is considered to be reasonable. There needs to be some clarification from organisations which hold our data, and I don't mean that standard copy and paste privacy policy that you see everywhere on the web, I mean facts and figures, telling us where our data goes, how long they have it, and what they do with it. As for everyone else, what does it matter if you're being watched left, right and centre if you're broadcasting pictures of last night's party to the world on Facebook?

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Ya very well said. We have to be in safe and hence use the features to protect our privacy. Though technology has given many valuable things, the thing it needs to protect is privacy. In the site http://www.broadbandsuppliers.co.uk we are monitoring every users activities and even keeping a tracking id for the privacy.

I think, the worst risk is not to give away your personal information for a government agency or a controlled business (ISP) but to put visible for a private business, i.e. Facebook. Or even worst, to put visible for all, for example to use your real name instead of a username or to put visible your personal photo.

I always love it when I hear the line "I don't care, I have nothing to hide" or "You care about privacy, what are you hiding"

Privacy, and its associated tools, are all about protecting you, and your data.

Why do you lock up your door at night? To prevent someone getting in.
Why do you make sure your wallet is in your pocket? To prevent someone stealing it and using your Credit Card.
Why do websites that have encryption exist? To ensure your credit card details are safely transmitted over the internet.

I use encryption all the time, and if the government asked me to reveal the information, I would ask for a valid reason. Not because I am attempting to hide something, but because I am protecting the data on my computer.

Using a laptop, something easily stolen, the loss of a laptop is far less, then the loss of the data in the long run.
Your address book, well that can easily be used by organised crime syndicates for targeted phishing scams, your bank receipts and other records on your computer can be used to help ID Fraud. Your saved passwords for your websites can be analysed, recovered - and many people use the same passwords for there internet banking providing access to your money.

These are just some of the reasons my Home Directory of my laptop is encrypted. I don't care if someone gets hold of my music or photos - there is nothing there to worry about. But the information core to my identity, information transmitted via IM or eMail can sometimes be confidential - be it user details, birth dates, bank details for transferring cash etc.

I am not hiding it from the government if they can provide a reason, I am making it harder for the average thief who might steal my laptop, or the fool who buys it to get access to my data.

I deal in a line of work, where being able to ensure that the data on my laptop is secure is a point to consider. But by securing the data so it cannot be misused, I am automatically labelled by many here as a deviant attempting to hide something.

Sorry - but a valid concern for Privacy, and using Encryption Technology to achieve that, does not make me a Terrorist. If you really believe that, then you had better start buying more aluminium foil for your hats.

Some information you can't control, some you can - Turn up the privacy settings on facebook for one.

Create different groups so some people can't see your status messages - your less likely to get fired if you take a Sicky and then set your status to having a great day out at the cricket if your Boss can't see it.

But oh wait - that means you have something to hide. You must be a terrorist like everyone else out there that cares about who knows what.

If you have no privacy, it's practically like eliminating your free will. You can't do anything without some form of oppression unless it's okay with everyone on the planet, and we all know how well we get along with each other and agree all the time on everything.

re. "However, the good side to this is that ISPs only hand out this data to the authorities, and most are reluctant to without good reason."

Only a judge via a court of law can authorize that in the UK I believe.

This article makes a good point but I think it went too far... I don't know of any ISPs that actually log every site you visit for starters. And the ANPR, I'm fairly sure they dont keep a record of where you've been, rather its an on-the-spot check to make sure you have insurance and all that jazz. The real issue is sites like Facebook which do hold onto data which Neowin recently reported... I'm not fussed that I can be captured on numerous CCTV camera throughout the day, since the tapes most likely sit on a shelf colecting dust, it not like theyre going to blackmail me or anything - I've got nothing to hide so i don't really care.

Most ISPs (in the UK, at least) log every website that you visit for at least six months. And when I say every website, I mean every IP address related event is logged. However, the good side to this is that ISPs only hand out this data to the authorities, and most are reluctant to without good reason.

ANPR cameras do in fact log your registration plate (and the location it was at), and store it in the National ANPR Data Centre, for up to five years, according to this article.

Good god if you haven't done anything wrong you need not worry about who's watchin you doing whatever your doing if it helps nab the buggar that just mugged some kind little old lady of her entire pension cheque then good on it bring on big brother

The "if I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing to hide" statement is a statement for complete surveillance in every part of our lives. Although I agree that the benefits of it provide us with safety, I think we have to know where to draw the line.

Good god if you haven't done anything wrong you need not worry about who's watchin you doing whatever your doing if it helps nab the buggar that just mugged some kind little old lady of her entire pension cheque then good on it bring on big brother i'd rather live in a society that is safe for me walk down the road than one where i'm forever lookin over my shoulder

Automatic number plate recognition already exits, it is used for collection of tolls. Privacy exists because the police require a warrant to get that information, just as they require a warrant to track your mobile phone. It's when the databases are connected and cross correlated that problems begin (let's start with supermarket loyalty programmes).

In many cases a witness that can lie and does forget (a person) is being replaced with a witness that can never lie, and does not forget (a camera, ignoring automatic feature recognition software).

i'm no qualms about letting the world know what i'm doing with my other hand, assuming they're interested at all

but i'm concerned with what people might do with my name/identity.
imagine the horror to find your passport next to a murder victim!

I think communication is the key. As long as the companies or governments tell us what they're going to do with our private data, then it'll lessen the severity of the issue. I mean, I won't give out my information if a company tells me that they're going to give it to another company. However, if they tell me they won't then I may be willing and perhaps happy to give my information for the service/product/whatever. But, that may not apply with the government. Security, for example, is something that's important for most governments of the world. And it certainly comes at a price, and that price is less and less privacy. Imagine a future where your government will record all your phone calls, e-mails, etc. A future where your daily activities can be logged and viewed by the government. It's a scary future but it may come to that... one day.

I value my privacy. I have nothing illegal to hide, but I don't think any of what I do is yours or anyone else's business.

azcodemonkey couldn't have said it better myself

This whole privacy issue, or lack thereof, is just an evolution of society/mankind. With technology and information advances in the world as it is ------- this is just a natural progression. Be it for good or evil. In my personal opinion, greed and lust for power will eventually play a big part in it ....... sadly to say. But we should enjoy the present moment while we still can.

Imagine a world of true equality, a world in which regardless of person, place, thing, or idea can be accepted as valid regardless of common stereotypes. The world could in fact be a great place. I think one of the most complex issues society faces today is whether or not man and women alike can accept each other as a helping hand.

privacy is another word for "im hiding something illegal"

when it comes to nudity, disease (if you have aids and dont want others to know lol) MONEY and things like that, then privacy is important. but if it's a way to expose crime THEN it's not an invasion.

a camera that can identify a speeder on the road is VERY welcome. i'll admit if i am caught speeding then it's my own fault. if ya can't do the time don't do the crime!

nice, well, how about you post your full name, address, phone number, some of your relatives names, and give us a short summary about yourself, seeing as all that is no big deal ....

oh and while you're at it, hook us up with your facebook, twitter, IM address too. whats the harm? come on, i won't use your info for anything bad

A camera on the road is a violation of due process. It takes away human judgement, i.e. a cop that could tell if you were being unsafe. The law isn't black and white, otherwise we wouldn't need judges. Cameras cannot give any evidence of recklessness and cannot be deposed in a court. As a citizen, I have a *right* to face my accuser. Is the state going to pull the camera out to bring it to court. No. I think cameras on the road should be banned. Hire more cops. I'd gladly take a ticket from a cop if he thought I was being reckless. I'd gladly show up in court if I thought he was wrong. At the very least, I'd have the opportunity to do so.

I value my privacy. I have nothing illegal to hide, but I don't think any of what I do is yours or anyone else's business.

That's exactly right azcodemonkey. The province I used to live in used photo radar to enforce speed limits. The road was a LOT safer when people were worried about keeping up with the flow of traffic and making safe lane changes than watching all over the road for hidden cameras.

Izlude said,
privacy is another word for "im hiding something illegal"

Yeah, that's why the government hides things. Companies with trade secrets are also highly illegal. We should be watching them. We should also watch the guy trying to hide a surprise from his wife. We should be able to watch the woman trying to hide from her abusive husband, and the guy who's trying to keep his basket weaving hobby a secret so he won't get teased. We should be able to watch that other guy who's trying to come up with an invention that's patentable, there's no need to keep that secret. Test answers should be exposed, like everyone's religion and sexual orientation, and password list. Passwords, PINs, and credit card numbers should not be hidden!

Izlude said,
privacy is another word for "im hiding something illegal"

Yeah, that's why the government hides things. Companies with trade secrets are also highly illegal. We should be watching them. We should also watch the guy trying to hide a surprise from his wife. We should be able to watch the woman trying to hide from her abusive husband, and the guy who's trying to keep his basket weaving hobby a secret so he won't get teased. We should be able to watch that other guy who's trying to come up with an invention that's patentable, there's no need to keep that secret. Test answers should be exposed, like everyone's religion and sexual orientation, and password list. Passwords, PINs, and credit card numbers should not be hidden!

It would be nice if we could also track our politicians and police. Since they are public servants, we ought to be able to check in on them whenever we want, to make sure we approve of their actions when on the job. We should be able to check their procedures, policies, paperwork, actions and consequences, see what kind of warnings/reprimands they have instituted and the measures they have taken in these situations. Just stuff to make sure they're doing their job properly. These guys are in charge of a big chunk of our lives, we need to have oversight and approval, and knowledge of when they don't follow through.

They're humans just like us. People can purposefully break the law, or not do their job properly, and the police and government are no exception. However, they are in a better position to cover up their tracks if nobody is watching them, just as unwatched citizens could be up to anything and hiding it from the government and police, or each other. If as a society, we decide that surveillance is important, we should have it in place everywhere, not just on select groups. All I see in the news is stuff about watching private citizens from their own country. It's not about watching people who are trying to get in the country, or watching those who are given the power to enforce or to take grand actions such as the police and government.

This article makes a good point but I think it went too far... I don't know of any ISPs that actually log every site you visit for starters. And the ANPR, I'm fairly sure they dont keep a record of where you've been, rather its an on-the-spot check to make sure you have insurance and all that jazz. The real issue is sites like Facebook which do hold onto data which Neowin recently reported... I'm not fussed that I can be captured on numerous CCTV camera throughout the day, since the tapes most likely sit on a shelf colecting dust, it not like theyre going to blackmail me or anything - I've got nothing to hide so i don't really care.

I have little issue with companies using data from me for various purposes as long as they're up front and honest about it. Adsense comes to mind, I don't mind being served with ads that may be more relevant to me, even those from an email I've recieved. What I don't like is when companies do this behind my back, like those annoying tracking cookies or spyware or whatever.

yeah but then you have sites like facebook, using a photo of yourself, serveing you IN an ad to say, strangers perhaps... lol, kind of crossed a line there i think

i value my privacy alot, which is why i give up as little information as possible. the privacy and information you give up online is up to you in the end, no company or government cares about protecting you, thats laughable

the blame should be squarely placed on the individual (not talking about credit card info being hacked due to bank network being exploited) ... isn't only common sense to keep some things to yourself?

Once it proves to be useless, they will get bored and start wasting public money in another way. And the cycle will continue until well who knows!

with all this social web sites mixed with the values of privacy/human sociability/common sense we teach our youth we can predict how this thing called privacy is going to end!
it all resumes to better educating our seeds so they will not be affected or better prepared for a surveilance world!
it all resumes on how we all alow this to happen...
...or is it inevitable?

Weird to see the word privacy take over where 'freedom' used to go. I hope people don't start equating the two. Privacy has its value, but it's not the same thing. Being watched doesn't make us less free. Heck, the whole idea of being free depends on our ability to be free in public--seen by all. Freedom restricted to the shadows is not freedom at all.

Privacy needs to take a back seat to the real issue: the role of law enforcement. The government must not feel at war with its own people. Once they start spying on us and we start sneaking past them, things have gotten out of hand on BOTH sides. It has to stop.

almost feels like a battle that you cant win
because you're going to have to accept either an acceptable level of risk, or an acceptable level of privacy
like i wanna be safe n all, but the idea that all of my personal doings can be recorded somewhere is just as scary

I think if we could just clarify what happens to our personal data, people would feel a lot less "scared". For example, even if a company has some of the best data protection schemes put in place, if they don't tell us that, then we will just assume they are as bad as the others.

I think communication plays a vital role in making us feel more comfortable giving our personal data.

Neoauld said,
almost feels like a battle that you cant win
because you're going to have to accept either an acceptable level of risk, or an acceptable level of privacy
like i wanna be safe n all, but the idea that all of my personal doings can be recorded somewhere is just as scary


It is *all* about trade-offs.

If you demand absolute privacy, then you have no choice but to give up some of the benefits of having details in even the semi-public domain (such as ID cards, passports, fingerprint records, medical records, etc.)

How many are willing to give all that up (and the resulting loss of security that comes WITH giving those up)?

And we are, by and large, a society of societies that is all too willing to *trust the government* to protect us, when they have, all too often, done a poor job of it? (While I'm an American, I'm not talking about *just* the United States, or even a single state; I can't name ANY nation, even the autocracies and theocracies of the Middle East, that has any sort of decent record of preventing crimes against persons or property!)

Neoauld said,
almost feels like a battle that you cant win
because you're going to have to accept either an acceptable level of risk, or an acceptable level of privacy
like i wanna be safe n all, but the idea that all of my personal doings can be recorded somewhere is just as scary

i would give up this illusion of security for actual privacy any day of the week. The Constitution is the Constitution, and its quite plain and direct in its wording. Security be damned.

Nose Nuggets said,
i would give up this illusion of security for actual privacy any day of the week. The Constitution is the Constitution, and its quite plain and direct in its wording. Security be damned.

When did anyone say anything about "The Constitution" or the United States? This article is not specifically referring to any one country, so your constitution does not apply to the whole world