Privacy for sale

18 Aug 2006

Is there a more vexed topic for carriers and all other large organizations today than privacy‾

A recent spate of well-publicized privacy snafus in the US shows how fraught the issue is.

The most sensational was the theft in May of a Department of Veterans Affairs employee's laptop containing the personal details of 26.5 million veterans, setting off a Congressional inquiry.

The DVA suffer another theft two weeks ago when a PC with personal information on 36,000 veterans went missing from the offices of a contractor.

Just two weeks ago AOL posted the search log data of 658,000 subscribers - admittedly anonymously, but nonetheless provoking wide protests.

Privacy is related to but differs from data security, which is all about ensuring the security of important financial and commercial data - such as personal online bank accounts, for one.

Privacy issues really concerns the protection of details the release of which may be either personally embarrassing or simply that the individual did not give his or her permission for disclosure.

This is not exclusively an American or Western sensitivity.

Hong Kong legislators recently endured a record five-day sitting in a debate over changing the territory's rules for tapping phones and email.

In China a Zhejiang woman recently took her company to court because IT staff monitored her IM sessions with her boyfriend and disclosed them to other employees.

Without diminishing the scale of potential reputation or financial damage - or the sheer carelessness involved - a good deal of the public reaction in these data breaches is knee-jerk.

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