employee who uses a computer at work. Her boss occasionally reviews the lists.

  1. [Gordon’s] employer hires a company to search the Web for information about all employees, including their posts to Web boards and chat rooms. The employer reviews this information to see if employees are criticizing the company.

  2. [Debbie’s] boss frequently listens in on her phone conversations at work and reads her e-mail, whether work-related or not.

  3. [Ed’s] boss monitors all forms of communications in the office, whether work-related or not, and uses a video camera system to track work activity. [Ed] must bring a letter from his doctor to be paid for his sick leaves, and breaks are timed to the minute.

Government collection of personal information presents special issues by virtue of government’s unique status without competitors, its coercive capabilities, and the mandatory character of many of its data requests. Governments are involved in many activities of daily life, and they collect a great deal of personal information pursuant to such involvement. This provides many opportunities for repurposing. For example, states issue drivers’ licenses, for which they collect personal information. Such information is manifestly necessary for the purpose of enforcing state laws about driving—but states have also sold driver’s license information, including names and addresses, to obtain additional revenue. Such actions have had tragic consequences, as in the 1987 Rebecca Schaeffer shooting discussed in Section 4.3.1. Government agencies also collect large amounts of personal information for statistical purposes, such as the Census.

The scenarios discussed above and below are not necessarily instances of “good” technology or information being misappropriated by “bad” people, or of “bad” technology that is being used only for the invasion of privacy. Looking at particular cases shows the range of purposes and motives for both the technology and the institutions using that technology. There is often a difference in perception about whether a given application of technology offers more or less privacy and whether the outcome of the use is good or bad. Indeed, there are conflicting desires by both the targets of the information gathering and those who are doing the gathering. Understanding these issues gives a picture of a privacy landscape that is painted not in black and white but in multiple shades of gray.

To the extent that businesses and other organizations see fit to develop and implement privacy policies, these policies to varying degrees are informed by the principles of fair information practice described in Section 1.5.4. Fair information practices were originally developed in a context of government use of information, but over the past 30 years, they



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