Indiana Daily Student

Media ignore privacy issues

Though millions of Americans are slowly having their medical and credit records and even the food they eat recorded in corporate databases, news coverage of the computer privacy debate is limited. \nMedia cover privacy only when a government agency wants to monitor use of the World Wide Web or limit the use of encryption devices. Businesses' use of personal information has created a raging, but not-well-publicized debate.\nThe Internet plays an important role in this issue because it's frequently used for information gathering and marketing. On one side of the issue are big businesses that want to know a person's most detailed, personal information to improve profit margins. \nBusinesses also gather personal information on potential employees to improve profit margins. Creditors and insurance companies benefit from the collection of private information, activist Simson Garfinkel wrote in "Database Nation."\n"Today, medical records have an expanded role ' a role that doesn't involve primary healthcare," he wrote. "They are used by employers and insurance companies to decide who should be hired and insured. They are used by hospitals and religious organizations to solicit donations. Even marketers are buying up medical records in search of sales leads." \nGarfinkel added that while in the past people fully disclosed their medical histories, they will now feel they have to "compartmentalize" their medical records to protect themselves against the inevitable disclosure of damaging private data. \nGarfinkel's book is required reading in graduate student Maureen Ellis' computer science course, A110: Introduction to Computers and Computing. Ellis said one student told her the book's descriptions of privacy violations scared her.\n"If industry regulates itself, I think you're only asking for trouble," Ellis said. "They're going to obviously write the regulations to protect their personal interests, and I'm not sure it would be in the public's best interest."\n Meanwhile, activists like Garfinkel are arguing privacy must be protected through government regulation. And although important events are unfolding, not much of the debate is taking place on the front page. \n In a recent speech, Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Orson Swindle said Internet privacy should be regulated by industry, not government. His speech is a serious turn of events, considering businesses are the primary consumers of personal information. \nIn "The Brewing Web Revolt," Charles Cooper quoted The Pew Study, which showed that 94 percent of Americans polled expected to have privacy while using the Internet and 64 percent of those polled supported criminal sanctions against those companies which violated online privacy.\nIf thousands of Americans are supposedly interested in issues of online privacy, then it's hard to understand why this issue isn't being covered. One reason might be because it's not easy to understand. It's hard to imagine how signing up for a check cashing card at a grocery store, or answering an online survey can significantly effect a person's life. But, if a person buys a lot of beer and uses a grocery store frequent buyer card to make the purchase, it's possible that this information could be sold to an insurance company and that person's premiums could be raised.\nAnother possible reason the issue isn't often covered is because the news is controlled by businesses. Newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations, like other businesses, often use the Internet and targeted marketing to reach target audiences. It might not be in their best interest for on-line privacy to be more closely regulated.

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