P is for Privacy


Part of the AtoZ Challenge:

P is for Privacy
Government and corporate abuse of data storage

I'd like to just spend an entry here defending some of my musings from yesterday's post

A decade ago, Yahoo controversially cooperated with Chinese authorities, providing details of dissident journalists’ activities from their email accounts, on foot of requests related to log-in times, IP addresses, and other details. The dissidents faced charges directly related to their email activity, such as the sharing of material critical of the Chinese government with correspondents overseas, and these same dissidents were subsequently imprisoned. The UK and Ireland’s National Union of Journalists was among the groups advocating a boycott on the use of Yahoo services. One of Yahoo’s rationales for their behavior was that they cooperate with the law in whichever jurisdiction they operate.


Recently, studies undertaken by credit ratings agencies have suggested that the prevalence of keywords such as “wasted” in a person’s social media posts increase the probability that they have bad credit ratings, or are likely to be poor candidates for loans. Using such markers to discriminate against mortgage applicants, for example, is a possibility.


Companies often require new employees to pass drug tests before accepting positions, and to submit to health checks, psychometric testing and/or a battery of other examinations.


For decades, discoveries about people’s predispositions for inheritable diseases through genome studies have been talking points in health insurance companies’ rights and obligations. Should a health insurance provider be allowed to deny a person coverage on the grounds that there is a significant chance that he or she will contract an illness at some point? Individuals with inherited conditions such as Type 1 diabetes or cystic fibrosis already pay higher premia for their insurance than the average. Recent medical breakthroughs related to both conditions seem to be bearing fruit. But there will always be other conditions.


Data protection laws in Ireland state that companies are compelled to retain an individual’s information for a period no longer than is required. Individuals can request any and all information held about them from a company. While useful for a bank customer seeking confirmation of a historical transaction, data such as this – when linked to specific individuals – can obviously be abused in fields such as private investigation and journalism.


Whatever about the morality of fidelity, the hacking of the Ashley Madison dating site for those seeking to conduct affairs outside of the marital home, and the subsequent leaking of the credit card data of cheating spouses across the world, has probably led to more than a few marriage breakdowns.


Meanwhile, the legal obligations about data retention insisted upon by US lawmakers of their nation’s telecommunications providers causes contention; the United States has a frequently fractious relationship with EU-member countries over the sharing of what is usually innocuous information. US politicians and diplomats might argue that such information could be used retroactively to incriminate terrorists they want to bring to justice, and to expose their accomplices.


Critics argue that the vast majority of law-abiding individuals around the world are entitled to privacy, and the warrantless hoarding of such data is Orwellian.