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Chapter One: Getting Started

The Internet and Privacy


Almost a century ago, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis defined privacy as "the right to be let alone," which he said was one of the rights most cherished by Americans.

In the Information Age, personal information has become a highly valued commodity that is captured and compiled, bought and sold in ways never before imagined. At the same time, the convenience and power of the Internet encourage us to use online services for shopping, finding medical advice and connecting with friends. As a result, will we lose control of our medical records, our financial data, and information about our personal habits? As sensitive data is housed on the Internet rather than in our homes, how can we be assured of its confidentiality and security?

Justice Brandeis' vision of being "let alone" no longer suffices to define the concept of privacy in today's digital environment. Individuals should be able to interact in modern society without losing control over their personal information. The modern right to privacy also entails, therefore, the right to control our personal information even after we disclose it to others.

For an in-depth discussion of the elements and the concept of privacy, read Privacy in the Digital Age: Work in Progress.

Our Internet use generates detailed information about us — revealing where we "go" on the Net, who we associate with, and what political, commercial and social activities we engage in. Various tracking tools can mine and manipulate our online trail to build a detailed profile without our knowledge or consent.

What laws or policies govern collection and use of personal data? What do lawmakers propose to do? What promise does technology hold to enhance privacy? What can you do as an individual to protect your privacy?

Read on.

Fourteen Ways To Protect Your Privacy Online

CDT's Guide To Web Site Privacy Policies