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Threats to Privacy

Even with the adoption of legal and other protections, individuals, businesses, and governments continue to invade consumer privacy, through both legal and illegal means. The illegal aspect of privacy invasion is easy to understand. A hacker who breaks into a company and steals credit card information has blatantly stolen personal information. But the scenario in which a marketing company sells all your personal information to anyone with money breaks no laws, but the result is the same—your personal data is compromised. In many countries, laws have not kept up with the technology, so technology has created significant gaps in protection for consumers. More functionality with the use of technology such as e-mail, Web surfing, and cell phones has not spawned equally aggressive technologies to keep personal data secure.

Without laws to support the enforcement of security of new technologies, the consumer will be easy prey for any individual or business who has access to information-gathering tools. The U.S. State Department's annual review of human rights violations finds that more than 90 countries engage in illegal monitoring of the communications of political opponents, human rights workers, journalists, and labor organizers. Even though we have laws in the U.S. against such illegal activities, they still occur. Legal violations of your rights are even easier for governments to commit. As with any law, interpretation is key in the implementation of the law. Significant breeches of personal privacy can be buried in bills before the House and Senate that get passed because lawmakers are always compromising to achieve a middle ground. Laws such as HIPAA, which is a set of federal regulations intended to protect and simplify the exchange of health care data, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley, which requires financial institutions to establish an effective security program, seem to help consumers, but as we have been discussing and will see later in this chapter, there are many instances in which these laws have actually compromised consumer privacy.


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