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The invention and uptake of communications and internet enabled technologies that brought much excitement to the global users. Many don’t know, but these technologies equally unveiled the world where privacy remained a thing of the past. This paper examines how the internet enabled technologies have intruded into every user’s personal space, the dangers of such intrusions and the possible ways of enhancing individual privacy in a world where technology means everything.

Security and Privacy in Communication Networks

Introduction

McCluhan’s assertion that publication is a self- invasion of privacy has gained much relevance with the invention of computers, internet and the World Wide Web. Communication networks have totally infiltrated the privacy of an individual, since most of them require personal information including date and place of birth, workplace, family members, and daily routines and engagements. Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all of which are repositories of personal information work by sharing intimate details about an individual to potential contacts, mostly without one’s consent. Through the element of pop up suggestions, others can access your private information which you published as a requirement to belong to a given network.

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While self publication may be done in good faith and for specific desirable outcomes, this is often not the case. In his work Encoding and Decoding, Stuart Hall analyses how these two processes  in communication often proceed. The act self publishing is a process of encoding, packaging information for others to consume. When the receiver gets into contact with the information, he must decode it. Decoding is however done according to the receiver. The sender has little or no help towards how the message will be decoded. This reality means that the decoder decides the type of message he wants to get out of the communication. When this process of decoding proceeds contrary to the expectations of the sender, the message will be distorted, leading to misquotation of the sender. More often, this is injurious to the sender. (Hall, 1980)

In his article titled advantages and disadvantages of internet communications and privacy, Jayashree Pakhare outlines why privacy can hamper internet enabled communication. In his view, with stringent measures on the use of internet, it would not be easy for instance to execute online business transactions which has revolutionized commerce in the world. He also points to the increasing number of online services, all of which demands promulgation of personal information, but have become synonymous with life today. These include paying utility bills, transferring funds or remitting taxes to the government (Pakhare, 1)

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While revolutionizing the way we interact, communication networks and technologies have presented a new risk to personal space and privacy. With increasing cases of cyber crime like site hacking, illegally gaining access to personal data belonging to an individual or entity, the effects have been phenomenal. Both individuals and financial institutions have lost colossal amounts to internet fraudsters. Equally, scores of people have suffered both emotional and psychological ruin because of the cyber crime. Illegal access to and manipulation of personal accounts in the social sites are reported each day. Through Search Engine Optimization, several web pages have been syndicated. Individuals are consequently exposed to unfriendly sites such as porn sites that the minors can stumble upon. Essentially, communication networks continue to impinge private space both covertly and overtly, a position that this paper explores in detail (Roger, 1999)

Discussion

From the formative years of humanity, protection of an individual person and property from all forms of harm has been highly esteemed. This desire to keep an individual person, entities and their properties from illegal access or intrusion led to the creation of conventional laws. The laws were further given legitimacy through the formalization of legal structures to deal with offenders and the police system to deter the intruders. Individual privacy was hence regarded as sacred. This privacy was however limited to the physical persons and properties (Underwood & Findlay, 2004).

Soon, individuals began putting others through extra-physical forms of harm, including emotional and psychological harm. The term “property” equally acquired a new meaning, transcending physical endowments to include thoughts and ideas. With these developments corresponding changes in the concept of law came. To secure this new aspect of privacy, new laws had to cater for both tangible and intangible aspects of properties.

Traditionally, privacy was easy to define and protect. It was all about an individual. People had the sole responsibility of protecting themselves from the extra-physical form of intrusion. Unless the others are directly involved, personal information could be divulged to the public. The subject of getting someone`s personal information became a focus of study, hence making it relatively difficult to access one’s privacy. It would be equally easy to predict the intruder, further stifling the urge to intrude into other’s personal space (Roddel, 2004)

An exception was marked for public figures. The mirror between public interest and interest to the public considerably became blurred. Personal space could, therefore, be at stake if it was linked to public interest. Also, the intense human desire to know about the private life of  the public figures created potential impetus for snooping into their private world. The result would promulgate what is interesting to the public even though it might not be in public interest. To navigate this new form of personal privacy intrusion, new legal concepts including libel, defamation and slander were conceptualized. Granted, conventional law allows every person to share, to the desired extent, his or her thoughts, sentiments and emotions with another person(s).

The invention and uptake of communication and internet enabled technologies have, however, ushered in a new frontier in the protection of individual privacy. Instead of individual responsibility, today personal privacy is largely an issue of mediated responsibility, often involving many parties. To sign up with mobile phone providers, you have to provide details which are largely personal: identification card number, name and residence address, and family members` names. Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter take it further, by demanding occupation, employer`s name etc., besides the earlier mentioned requirements to sign up (John, 2006)

With all vital private information surrendered to such agencies, a person no longer retains the exclusive authority to deter privacy invasion. Rather, safety of one’s privacy rests with these online agencies as much as with the owner. Personal space is consequently mediated by a third party. Modern technologies have therefore clipped individual’s ability to keep their privacy and personal space. The result has been a volatile personal safety, which can be compromised at the touch of a button. What then are some of the specific ways through which communications and internet enabled technologies can compromise personal privacy?

While every mobile phone communications provider will assure the clients of the foolproof privacy policy, government instruments have often tapped in people’s conversations under the guise of insecurity threats. Further records of all the calls and text messages remain with the operators who can retrieve the same for ulterior motives.  Both individuals and companies have policies to protect their intellectual property. Filming or taking pictures of some properties are hence discouraged. Through the use of mobile phones, which are internet enabled and which have cameras, individuals and organizations have lost sensitive information. The presence of the little gadgets calls for vigil whenever they are around (Roger, 1998).

With the invention of the internet, several organizations have moved their business to the online platform. Transactions are executed online. A new system of tracking goods through radio frequency identification tags is gaining currency. Organizational and territorial privacy have all been bridged by the use of GPS navigation systems. Individual privacy is equally challenged by technologies, for instance, the automatic number plate recognition systems. All these instances present a vacuum for unauthorized access to the personal space of an individual.

Despite the allure safety for individual websites, essentially no single site online is safe. Through the principle of six degrees of separation, every site on the internet is linked to another site. This means that every site can be directed to other sites through less than six other intermediate sites. All sites are, therefore, accessible from any other site. Whatever information available on a personal website is, therefore, accessible to other site on the internet. Based on the concept of scale, free networks with grater patterns of similarity characterize the internet. From a single site, harmful spyware can easily be disseminated to other linked sites. This can disable the entire website, causing loses of data and personal information (Dempsey, 1998).

The Internet has also immensely fueled the invasion and harm of individual’s and corporate extra-physical properties. The intellectual property has often been stolen and pirated online. Many fraudsters have distributed intellectual property including music, films, videos, speeches, paintings etc, without the originators’ consent. This led to the recent anti-piracy bill in the United States which seeks to eliminate abuse of intellectual property in America.

In the social networking sites, personal privacy is overly violated. The concept of photo tagging in which individuals are associated with specific photos against their will and knowledge has left many struggling with moral consequences of such photos. Since social networking sites employ supermarket models, such photos are available to be viewed by one’s connection in the social site. Often, jointly with other people, an individual can be a party to some activity in which some pictures are taken. Part of the group can upload such photos, making them available to people, some of whom don’t wish to make them available to others. Some of the pictures can be taken in compromising situations, only suitable for the owners to view them. The spread of such pictures online has been attributed to the high number of divorce cases, strained bilateral relations between nations and loss of jobs for individuals.

Complex privacy settings in the social networking sites compound users’ vulnerability. Some of the settings are too complex and require technical knowhow to effectively handle them. Many users often fail to comprehensively manipulate the settings for maximum security. Much of private information therefore gets into the hands of illegitimate viewers. This has fueled cyber crimes. The functionality to update status on the networking sites, without proper settings is equally harmful. When one declares absence from home for some time, potential attackers, including burglars, can easily take advantage of the situation and invade homes of victims (Roger, 1999).

Various search engines in the market today can largely collate personal information regarding one’s search history without the consent of the victim. These engines can also store the location of the user for over three months. Further, Google for instance even offer suggestions of what is searched on the browser panel. And the entries related to your former searches often pop up. Using IP addresses and geographical locations, search engines can easily indicate one’s location. The Google privacy policy which came into effect in March 2012, will essentially collect all information related to a user upon logging in. All these is explained by the fact that they want to ease the browsing by collating the information regarding a user. This is, however, an intrusion in the user`s private life, since it lays bare all Internet activities associated with Google products, including Gmail and Youtube. Although primed as intended to ease browsing for users, these moves are equally meant to understand the needs, aspirations and demands of the users, which can then be sold to the advertisers who look the information about targeted products and services.

The emergence of communication and Internet enabled technologies has equally nourished spy agencies and illegitimate personal information seekers with ulterior motives. Remote controlled gadgets, capable of collecting personal information from an individual, are readily available in the market. The birth of CCTVs has ushered in more caution as to what you can do in certain environments that can be classified as private. These technologies have effectively blurred the distinction of a person’s private and public life (Dempsey, 1998).

Based on the above exposition, it remains clear that the Internet communications and Internet enabled technology, through their inherent requirement to self disclose or publish sensitive personal information has almost entirely eliminated the possibility of controlling one’s privacy. But, with privacy being so critical to the survival of individuals and institutions, how can these technologies be regulated to achieve a reasonable degree of privacy?

Enhancing Privacy on the Internet

Given the pivotal role the Internet and communication technologies play in today’s world, it would be futile to wish them away or shun them altogether. Erosion of privacy has been largely perpetuated by the controller of the technology, including owners of the social networking sites, search engine developers, ISP providers and cyber operators. Therefore, in order to enhance privacy they have to secure the uniquely individual information. .This can be achieved through the following measures:

Website operators should make explicit from the beginning the type of information they want to collect from the users. This should be augmented by the level and type of privacy policy, adopted by the site operators, and by the future use of the information collected in this way. This will inform the potential users, so they can make deliberated decisions before signing up with such websites.

Website operators should simplify the privacy policy language to ensure such policies are consumer friendly.  Several privacy policies are written in a legal jargon, leaving many users unable to comprehend the policies fully. Simplifying the language will enable the users to make informed choices, after having fully understood such policies. On top of this, operators should inform the users of the default model of information sharing to the users. Where information sharing is public, the users should be accordingly informed so that they can consciously revert to the private model on signing-up with a website (Roger, 1999)

Since personal privacy is largely a matter of individual responsibility, and because intrusion of personal space online is hugely a result of self publishing of sensitive information, the individual equally has a complementing role to play in ensuring personal privacy is enhanced. This can be achieved through the following measures:

While considering online purchasing and transaction, users should consider applying for temporary credit card numbers which can be abandoned after the transaction. This can considerably reduce the vulnerability of your office credit card account from online abuse and theft (Forester and Morrison, 1995).

To protect personal computer from potential loss of personal data from malwares, ensure your PC is running on the most effective antivirus which is constantly updated. This should be reinforced by allowing firewalls to enhance the safety of the sites visited. This will effectively filter harmful sites, further protecting the personal computer from harm by malwares.

It is desirable to keep in touch with others through e-mails. This mode of communication has been greatly abused leading to loss of much personal information. To ensure safety, the use of strong passwords, comprising of both words and figures is encouraged to deter predictability. It is important to logout effectively after each browsing session, so your account is not accessed by others when they try to log in to the same site (Roger, 1999)

The current crop of mobile phone communications technology is capable of indicating your location with the help of GPS features. Most of the devices, however, allow the manipulation of this feature. For maximum safety, it is advisable that the feature is turned off. Equally, since people often store vital personal information in the mobile handsets, the loss through theft can give away much of the information. It is therefore important that the amount of information stored in the phones is kept to a minimum for the privacy protection (Dempsey, 1998)

Additional safety measures to be used by communications and Internet enabled technologies` users include frequently changing the passwords to eschew predictability. On social networking sites, it is wise to only accept people you know and trust. Eliminate any suspicious friends from your online accounts.

Conclusion

The invention of modern communications and Internet enabled technologies has completely eliminated the element of privacy among the users. Personal information available in platforms is so varied that the owners can barely keep up with it. From business networks, and government regulations to mobile phone service providers, personal information is rampant on the World Wide Web (Gralla, 2007).

All instances of availing personal information online are largely cases of an individual decision. While always done with the best intentions, the results have sometimes been unhealthy. Loss of intellectual property with a single instance of sharing on the social networking sites, erosion of personal space by publishing pictures, ideas, statements or even loss of jobs and marriages blamed on the proliferation of these technologies (Underwood & Findlay, 2004)

Since Internet and communications technologies have increasingly become indispensable, exercise of caution and knowing how much personal information to avail online is considered a way out of the bottleneck of privacy invasion by these new technologies. Care should be taken when selecting websites to visit or the people to allow into your inner networking circles in the social networking platforms. Sporadic change of sensitive passwords to eschew predictability can considerably save, for instance, online accounts from unauthorized access (Barabasi and Bonabeau, 2003).

Since mobile phones have become synonymous with modern communication, only limited private information should be stored in them. This is because they can easily be stolen and sensitive personal information can be retrieved.

While signing-up with a new website, it is important to understand the privacy policy and the default model adopted by the website in order to make informed choices to enhance security and personal privacy. Parents are equally advised to monitor the use of the Internet by the minors to protect them from Internet bullies and porn peddlers.

The world is increasingly experiencing the desire by the authorities to administer how we use the internet. This new form of surveillance has been primed to ensure security of the people and the state. But while this initiative is noble, the fact that it nudges on individual privacy makes the internet community very jittery. In a number of cases, spying is done with all the good intentions, but a times, this information gathered can be utilitarian in ways unknown prior to the whole practice of surveillance.

Finally, since the Internet and communications technologies thrive on the provision of personal data by the users, it is important to note that total personal privacy is not possible. Through self publication, users unconsciously give their privacy away.

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