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Electronic Privacy in the Workplace and Government Surveillance

Info: 2707 words (11 pages) Law Essay
Published: 7th Aug 2019

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Jurisdiction(s): US Law

The history of the Internet began in the 1950’s, the intitial concept was for a Wide Area Network (WAN) within several science labratories within the USA and select European nations.   In the 1960’s, the United States Pentagon, took an interest in the WAN concept and funded the project. By the 1980’s, a research arm of Cern, located in Switzerland had produced the World Wide Web (WWW). Since then, the Internet has had a revolutionary impact on culture, commerce, and technology, including the rise of near-instant communication by Electronic Mail, Instant messaging, Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP), World Wide Web, Social media, Blogs, and Various types of Online forums. Since September 11, 2001, America’s had experienced its largest terrorist attack upon its soil. The U.S. Federal Government (3 branches; Congress, Executive, and Judiciary) it’s myriad of Intelligence, Military, and Law Enforcement agencies have sought unique ways to seek out and thwart possible future attacks upon its citizens and infrastructure. However, the Federal government and Private sector companies attempt in securing society and proprietary data has not been without litigation challenges from; US Citizens, NGO’s, and other concerned privacy groups, that are worried that their Constitutional Right to privacy has been “cast aside” in favor of peace and security by overzealous Local, State, federal governments, and by private employers. This paper will attempt to examine the Constitutional rights of US citizens and balance those guarantees with the government and private companies need’ to protect the “Homeland” and Intellectual and Proprietary data sets.

On August 6, 1991, was the day the Internet AKA World Wide Web became publicly available to the world at large. There was no global fanfare or press.  In fact, most people around the world didn’t know what the World Wide Web was let alone use its purported and intended use was for. Starting in early 1992, the first image was uploaded to the web and in 1993, Cern, announced that the World Wide Web (WWW) was free to everyone around the planet and people could assist in the development of the data and media platform globally. Meanwhile, while not strictly ‘the Web’, the Internet of Things will allow physical objects to transmit data about themselves and their surroundings, bringing more information about the real world into the online realm. Imagine getting precise, live traffic data from all the local roads; trains that tell your smartphone that they’re full before they arrive; maybe even implants in your body that give you real-time updates about your health that feed into a secure online ‘locker’ of your personal data. All this and much more are possible with the Internet of Things, helping to transform what we expect from the Web and the Internet. While we cannot predict accurately everything that the future will hold for the Web, but whatever happens, it won’t be static. However, with anything that becomes part of the public domain comes; Laws, Rules, and Regulations and this is where we will first explore the Workplace Privacy issues that affects not only the company’s security of trade secrets and other ‘properties’ but that of what protections, if any that are afforded to employees of said companies. And we will then Segway into the government’ role and responsibilities’ to ensure the safety of our country and citizens versus that of the well adopted and defined Constitutional protections afforded for all US Citizens from government intrusion and unwarranted inspection. While these issues and concerns cannot be fully addressed in-depth here, we can however gain useful perspectives of law, security, and what constitutional protections that each afore-mentioned party can expect and what we need to be secure.

According Geraci, R., & Swierczynski, D., In 1986, the 99th session of the United States Congress and the President of the United States passed and signed into law: The Electronic Communicans Privacy Act and the Stored Wire Electronic Communications Act (ECPA) (18 U.S.C. & 2510-22) These laws initially dealt with Intercepted Conversations on hard landlines only. Later, after September 11, 2001, to current. The USA Patriot Act and other subsequent pieces of legislation dealt with Computer and other digital and electronic communications. The Patriot Act, for instance, was more to clarify and update the ECPA to keep pace with the evolution of new communications technologies and methods, including easing restrictions on law enforcement access to stored communications in some cases. While these new (relatively) laws are incumbent upon employers in the private sector the government bureaucracies are also held to these standards as well.

Let’s discuss the purpose, scope, and rights each party has under the law. The parties are identified as Employer and Employee and the scope of the law is; ECPA, as amended, protects wire, oral, and electronic communications while those communications are being made, are in transit, and when they are stored on computers. The Act applies to email, telephone conversations, and data stored electronically. Civil Rights and Civil Liberties must also factor into balancing the needs of the State, Employer as well as the Employee in safeguarding, protecting, and disseminating sensitive, confidential, and intellectual properties of the employer. The structure of the Stored Communications Act (SCA) reflects a series of classifications that indicate the drafters’ judgments about what kinds of information implicate greater or lesser privacy interests. For example, the drafters saw greater privacy interests in the content of stored emails than in subscriber account information. Similarly, the drafters believed that computing services available ‘to the public’ required stricter [sic] regulation than services not available to the public…To protect the array of privacy interests identified by its drafters, the [SCA] offers varying degrees of legal protection depending on the perceived importance of the privacy interest involved. Certain information can be obtained from providers with a subpoena, a special court order, and still other information requires a search warrant. additionally, some types of legal process’ require notice to the subscriber, while other types do not.

In conclusion, The ECPS and follow on Acts, essentially state that depending upon the sensitivity of the information and the importance of said data set and other types of properties, as prescribed by the Owner(s), Law Enforcement, and determined by a court of law can demonstrate the various steps to obtain information from employees, on their work or personal related communication devices. However, Guppy, P., states, “that a percentage of lawmakers AKA decisionmakers feel that the general public has too much freedom” and thus, wish to extend the laws against privacy and to also include; public speech and civic engagement. If so, being deemed to be engaging in and expressing political views, profit, and nonprofit organizations, they would be required to file regular reports with the government that provide personal identifying information about their employees and contributors. Ultimately, this idea of privacy in the workplace in my opinion is a charade. As employees, we have little expectation of privacy when engaging in company business, time, and utilizing company equipment / assets in pursuit of our assigned duties. The best policy I would suggest for employees is to follow all company Security and I.T. guidelines, keep your personal life away from all employer owned communication devices and be careful to assess what you say, how you say it, how you handle and safeguard company data sets, and other types of properties. Let’s now, examine what privacy is and how is relates against the constant need of the federal government to protect the homeland and its citizens.

According to the distinguished writers; Wright, Hert, Wright, David, & Hert, Paul de., they state that: “privacy has many forms; personal, family life, home, correspondence, and communication” Further they also state “the combined use of the right to protection of private life and the right to protection in correspondence” allows the court to provide legal protection for almost any attribute or behavior that defines the individual’s identity as a human being, including personal data. But, with every freedom comes an obligation of responsibility and proportion when it comes to what types of limitations that are imposed upon the individual and granted to the government. In fact, the Founding Fathers have also realized and stated that there is no guarantee right of absolute privacy with individuals and has said as much.  Article (US Constitution) 8(2) allows a public authority to interfere so long as the measures taken are “in accordance with the law” and “necessary in a democratic society” in pursuance of a wide range of “legitimate aims”, including prevention of crime, disorder, and protection of the rights of others. Overall, Privacy is related to a broader family of terms such as publicity, surveillance, anonymity, and secrecy. And the government can and does have legitimate rights to ensure domestic safety, tranquility if the government follows the 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14 Amendment as it relates civil liberties and protections of its citizens.

According the the News video of CBS, “Privacy please”, hosted by Charles Osgood, most citizens believe that the Federal government has over-stepped its legal bounds in their rabid collection attempts of metadata sets on every US citizen and noncitizen. Further, Mr. Osgood states, “we know that most Law Enforcement,  Intelligence agencies,  the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act AKA FISA Courts, of the US government has flagrantly violated or used secrecy clauses to violate the ECPA Act as well as The Patriot Act in order that, they may gather as much metadata on each citizen on most occasions. The question then becomes, at what point do we reign in the US Governments mecurial attempts to circumvent the civil rights of its citizens in favor of the same government discharged duty’s and obligation’s to protect our collective safety, infrastructure, and freedoms?

Author and Professor Brian Kernighan, states on pp 204, ‘Technology has now enabled a type of ubiquitous surveillance that has previosuly been the providence of only the most imaginative science fiction writers.” Further, he adds: “that governments use the word “security” in the most broadest sense of “national security” that is, protecting the country as a whole against terrorist attacks.” The US Government defines surveillance as; the observation and or monitoring of persons, the term encompasses not only visual observation but the scrutiny of actions, behavior, and speech. Frequently, the US government surreptitiously surviels american and non-american citizens at will anywhere on the globe, for the purpose to gather information about their ‘supposed or suspected activities” and very often without a court order and or a warrant obtained under false pretenses.  I am not suggesting that the US government does this in all cases, but they have a natural inclination to take the law to the extremes of jurisprudence and allowance of law. Computers as we understand them to be are; in fact two seperate identities; hardware and Software. Both have their unique role in the law and in applications, however, hardware supports the software and vice versa and both are just as equally important and can be stationed within and outside the teritorial boundaries of the USA and allegedely are subject to the laws of the US. The ethics of government surrviellance has two parties competing for need and privacy and these needs are often in daily conflict with each other, even if one party is left in the dark about privacy and surrviellance. Let’s examine and conclude this matter of electronic privacy in the workplace and government surviellance.

Allow me to stated emphatically, there is no such thing as “Privacy from…” each citizen has responsibility’s to ensure their own safety and security of data from prying eyes and unwanted snooping from government officals. But, there must be rules put in place that govern our actions and behaviors and to give the government the tools they need to snoop into private lives if adminstered correctly and by noncorrupt officals. Here is a typical argument used by governments; “If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.” This is used to justify spying (corporately) on citizens and non-citizens. Upon cursory inspection, this seems innocent enough most people are law-abiding and are willing to cooperate with law enforcement. This argument though has many flaws in it, for example; the government using this logic can slowly or quickly erode our right to privacy “since we all have nothing to hide” or the government can badger us and question us inquiring our whereabouts, why’s, and what we did or are doing without limitation. Privacy is under constant threat from attempts to subvert it for commerical, governmental, and criminal purposes. Without legal controls, self knowledge, and self responsibility the collection of personal data and surviellance will contuinue unabated and without checks and balances.

We as an organized society, must remember, that technology is always changing, but people generally do not. We are the same essentially as 3,000 years ago, with similar proportions of good and bad people on both sides of the equation. Legal, social, and political mechanisms do adopt to technological changes but are slowly implemented differently across different nation-state territories. Know your rights and responsibilities and always remember; “you alone have responsibility to employer, self, government, and to family to safeguard data, privacy, and be on the look out for threats internally and extrenally. Lastly, having a minset that anything you do at work on company equipment and assests will be closely scrutinized and monitored. It would behoove any worker to know the I.T. rules and general S.O.P. of said company when it comes to safeguarding against and identifying; data set loss, equipment failures, online threats and other types of threats, that could possibly harm or denueter the company’s profile and value in a negative and harmful way. Also, being responsible in any online medium and electronic equipment requires education, diligence, and excerciseing your rights as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America and if need be fight to enforce thos rights that are scared amongst the institutions of government and society.

Works Cited

  • Geraci, R., & Swierczynski, D. (1997, 06). A cubicle with a view. Men’s Health, 12, 52. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.csn.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.csn.edu/docview/226849355?accountid=27953
  • Guppy, P. (2018). Bill would limit speech, privacy for individuals. Journal of Business, 33(3), 39. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.library.csn.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.csn.edu/docview/2002984174?accountid=27953
  • Kernighan, Brian W. Understanding the Digital World: What You Need to Know about Computers, the Internet, Privacy, and Security, Princeton University Press, 2017. ProQuest eBook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/csn/detail.action?docID=4786291.
  • Privacy Please. Prod. Amiel Weisfogel. Columbia Broadcasting System, 2011. Alexander Street Database. Web.
  • Wright, Hert, Wright, David, & Hert, Paul de. (2012). Privacy impact assessment (Law, governance and technology series; v. 6). New York: Springer.

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