Thursday, March 31, 2011

Our privacy - under attack by government and criminals ...and, is there a difference?

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Privacy. It is something that all of us cherish, not only for our own piece of mind but also because there are many aspects of our lives that are no one else's business.

We live in a world where personal privacy is becoming an endangered species. Not a week goes by that I don't read about another "ap" or law that further erodes what should be a right for all of us.

As our government takes increasing advantage of technology and fear of terrorism, they continue to pass laws that allow the themselves to delve ever-further into our personal lives. What is even more scary is that most of us suspect, with good reason, that our own government seems unafraid to go beyond the law to intrude on our private lives.

What is, perhaps, most sad about this is that, in many cases, we aide and abet the government in its effort to make our lives transparent.

Many of us participate in social networking websites, such as Facebook. In order to participate, one must make a certain amount of information public. Much of the information that can be included on your personal pages is voluntary. I am amazed at the amount of information that some people put "out there" for the world to see.

Don't get me wrong, sites such as Facebook, are fun and convenient ways to share information with family and friends, catch up with "lost" friends and classmates, and to cyber-socialize.

What one must keep in mind is that, in spite of safeguards and privacy blockers, one must assume that anyone, that's right, anyone, with enough skill and determination can read and view everything on your site.

How many retail stores have security cameras that can watch your every move? How many parking lots have security cameras keeping watch? These cameras serve a useful purpose in identifying criminals but it is one more example that you are being watched.

Traffic light cameras in cities, which in my opinion are one of the most illegal big-brother devices currently in use, are another way that our government can keep an eye on your every move.

What about our cell phones? Many have Global Positioning Satellite technology built in. Our phones are not only tools to communicate with those with whom we wish to talk, but also devices that could allow our government to follow our every move.

Our lives have become an open book that is available from free to anyone with a computer and Internet access.

Identity theft is on the rise as criminals prey on those vulnerable to cyber-attack. It was not that long ago that the big worry was shredding your bills and correspondence to deter criminals. Now, they don' t have to dirty their hands going through your trash, they can prey on their victims from the comfort of home or the local coffee shop.

An often-used phrase for many years was, "... the privacy of your own home." Today, we have little privacy, even at home. We must maintain a constant vigil to keep criminals away from our doorstep. That includes those who would "enter" your home through your computer.

Our government is far behind in keeping laws and penalties appropriate for the age of cyber-criminals. Part of the problem is that technology is moving so fast that it is impossible to keep up. Part of the problem could be that, as the ability to pry into our personal lives increases, our government is working to decide which parts of these new-found tools might work to their own benefit to intrude "legally" into our lives.

No matter what, we individual citizens are fighting a two-front war. On one hand we have our own government carrying an ever-increasing attitude that they should have our very lives at their beck and call, while on the other, we have criminals looking for the same information as they look to steal our lives for their own profit.

We all need to think twice before posting personal information on any website. If we do business online, we must be sure of the company with which we are exchanging information. If much of the above thoughts seem paranoid, so be it. A certain amout of paranoia is necessary in order to see that we, and our loved ones remain safe.

All the while, we need, and deserve, the ability to carry on with our everyday lives. I have found no easy answer. We must remain vigilant against both criminals and our own government. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the two.

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