Term Paper: Personal Privacy Threats

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Personal Privacy Threats

The various issues connected with personal privacy and the protection of personal information are gaining more and more visibility in the media, and the main reason why is that the threats to personal privacy are growing, not decreasing. This paper will review the problems and concerns that are created due to the loss of personal privacy, due to identity thefts and warrantless wiretapping of citizens' phones and emails, and the threats resulting from increased incidences of those matters.

IDENTITY THEFT: Looking at the problem of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that "for the sixth year in a row, identity theft tops the annual list of consumer complaints" it has received (according to the Information Management Journal). For the year 2005, over 685,000 consumer complaints were filed with the FTC; the estimated personal financial losses for those citizens was $680 million.

On their list of "Top Crime Complaints," the FTC reports that identity theft represented 37% (the most) of their complaints; second was "Internet Auctions" (12%); and third was "Foreign Money Offers" (8%). Clearly identity theft is an enormous problem in the U.S., and people need to take all steps available to protect themselves.

And though the increase in number of complaints of identity theft to the FTC only rose by 5%, the journal explains, the actual money lost was rising at frightening levels; indeed, in 2005 forty-nine consumers reported losing over a million dollars in identity theft scams, but only 42 people reporting losing a million or more in 2004. And although 11,000 citizens complained of losing $5,000 or more to a con artist who stole their identity in 2004, that number rose to 14,000 victims in 2005.

Overall, the average amount of money each person reporting identity theft lost in 2004 was $1,846, but in 2005, that went up to an average of $2,400. Clearly, identity theft is a crime problem that is not being stopped by authorities and that calls for individuals to be ever more cautious in their use of credit cards, debit cards, person information online and in other areas of their lives.

How do the hackers (or "phishers") get into computers and steal private information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, and other personal data? According to an article in Communications of the ACM (Berghel, 2006) one way personal data is stolen is by "phishing" attackers who use "spoofed" email to "trick recipients into divulging financial data." In other words, rather than sneaking into one's computer, the phishers put out "bait" for the naive Internet user to be attracted to and follow.

For example, a phisher (who is "fishing" for ways to steal your information) will send an innocent person an email offering something enticing and a giving a URL to the email recipient. The "essential requirements of effective phishing require the bait" to look realistic, offer a swell opportunity, cause the "unwary to suspend any disbelief," and "clean up after the catch."

What all that means is that a phisher may send tens of thousands of the same email out that looks exactly like a legitimate email from, say, the Bank of America, the user's bank; the user is told his or her information is outdated, and to click on the link to update that information (like bank account numbers, credit card numbers, etc.). From there, the phisher can mine a lot of data from the unsuspecting user, who willingly updates key personal information.

WARRANTLESS WIRETAPPING: Meanwhile, is it okay for the executive branch of the U.S. Government to snoop into millions of emails and monitor millions of phone users' patterns? As to emails, the Information Management Journal (May/June 2006) states that the 1996 Electronic Communications Privacy Act supposedly offers "varying degrees of protection... [and] generally requires a court order for investigators to read email..."

Moreover, an article published on May 29, 2006, by the New Yorker - written by one of the most respected investigative journalists in the U.S., Seymour Hersh - abuses by the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1978 lead to the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). That act required that before the government conducted any wiretapping of citizens phones - for any reason, even legitimate security reasons - a warrant must be obtained from a special court designed explicitly for this purpose.

Those initial abuses occurred in the "mid-nineteen-seventies," Hersh writes, paraphrasing a recently retired NSA official, when the NSA "...illegally intercepted telegrams to and from the United States." And so Congress passed the FISA, "to protect citizens from unlawful surveillance."

And yet, investigative reporters revealed in December, 2005, the NSA "was listening in on calls between people in the United States and people in other countries"; and in May, 2006, Hersh notes that USA Today reported the NSA was "collecting information on millions of private domestic calls." Why? It can be assumed that after the embarrassment that the FBI, CIA, and NSA suffered because they failed to anticipate and stop the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the NSA was going to go all out to make sure it didn't happen again, even if it meant violating civil rights of innocent citizens, and even violating the FISA laws.

Hersh writes that as regards the "millions" of private citizen phone calls made, the FISA law "requires the government to get a warrant from a special court if it wants to eavesdrop on calls made or received by Americans." But no warrants were sought by the NSA. and, further, although the NSA and the Bush Administration said that they were not actually listening in to conversations, that they were just reviewing the "call logs" (recording through computers what numbers were called from which numbers; when and how often the calls were made) looking for possible links to terrorist groups, Hersh's NSA source said the fact is that untold tens of thousands of citizens' conversations were listened to.

Was this snooping by the government effective? "The vast majority of what we did with the intelligence was ill-focused and not productive," an unnamed NSA source told Hersh.

The NSA, which "has generally been barred from domestic spying except in narrow circumstances involving foreign nationals" (Eggen, 2005), has also monitored emails of "thousands of people" according to the Washington Post. The "secret order" by Bush, which gave the NSA power to spy on millions of Americans and authorized the NSA to hide its real activities from the FISA, "may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity," according to Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, who was quoted in the Washington Post story written by Dan Eggen.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Bush Administration's use of warrantless wiretapping technologies - spying on innocent Americans while hoping to uncover someone with terrorist intentions or links to terrorists - in federal court earlier this year. And in August, 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Anna Diggs Taylor ruled that the NSA surveillance program (without warrants) violates, according to www.aclu.org,"Americans' rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution, and runs counter to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) passed by Congress.

Judge Taylor ruled that the Bush Administration has not been "...granted the inherent power to violate not only the laws of Congress but the First and Fourth Amendments of the Constitution itself." The judged added that "There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution." The ACLU said that it filed the lawsuit "on behalf of prominent journalists, scholars, attorneys and national nonprofit organizations who say that the NSA program is disrupting their ability to communicate effectively with sources and clients."

USA PATROIT ACT: Congress passed the U.S.A. Patriot Act (PA) a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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