Sunday, September 23, 2007

How Private is Private?

One of the biggest concerns people have with using the Internet is privacy. When you place personal information into a database that almost anyone with a computer has access to, there really is no way to ensure privacy.

Most if not all social media tools have settings that allow the user to control the flow of information. Most people, myself included, feel extremely comfortable in posting information to Facebook, knowing that I have control over who is allowed to access my profile.

But, what about when we make reservations for a flight online? Or even a travel package that includes a hotel with our flight at a discount rate? Sure there is always a standard assurance "This information will remain private". How accurate are these statements? Are the details about where we're going, when we're going, and who we're going with, fully confidential?

According to a new article in the Washington Post, these details are being disclosed in full to the U.S Government:

The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of
millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.

The Automated Targeting System started in the early 90's as a way to determine possible security threats; however, since September 11th, 2001 "data for the system in recent years have been collected by the government from more border points, and also provided by airlines -- under U.S. government mandates -- through direct electronic links that did not previously exist".

While it is common knowledge that the government is expected to have access to certain personal information "travel records are among the most potentially invasive of records because they can suggest links: They show who a traveler sat next to, where they stayed, when they left".

Every day on the Internet we encounter notifications about our rights to privacy online. We take steps to prevent any possible loss of identity. As someone who travels quite frequently and has made many flight reservations online, this concerns me. If the government is going to have access to my interests in travel itinerary and reading material, what reason is there for keeping the information I share over social networks private?

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