Ensuring Your Privacy Essay Research Paper Ensuring

Ensuring Your Privacy Essay, Research Paper

Ensuring Your Privacy

“Privacy. There seems to be no legal issue today that cuts so wide a swath through conflicts

confronting American society. From AIDS tests to wiretaps, polygraph tests to computerized

data bases, the common denominator has been whether the right to privacy outweighs other

concerns of society…..”

Robert Ellis Smith, the Privacy Journal

Computers have been a very instrumental technology that has greatly advanced the

ways in which we now do things such as; business, daily activities, shopping,

scheduling appointments, and many other things. And with more and more people using

the Internet, more and more information being passed over the Internet, more problems

arise. The Internet has been an advance in technology that has greatly increased the

capacities of a computer. These new capacities have been the cause of some serious

problems though. One very important trouble is the lack of privacy on the Internet.

People pass much important information over the Internet and they expect it to be safe

from others. Information passed over the Internet can in fact be intercepted and read by

other people. For many years, this has been happening, and it has always been a

problem, but with more and more information being passed through, people want

something to ensure their privacy. The government does not want to allow everyday

people the privelage of computer security. Although they have tried to place laws on

the uses of some methods of privacy, they have not been as successful as they had

hoped. Privacy is important to people, governments and businesses, and finding a

method to protect their information is also a concern.

Privacy has been defined as “the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to

determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is

communicated to others” (Summers, 22). With the advances in technology, it has

become very hard to ensure your privacy. Collecting, manipulating, and sharing data

has become increasingly easier to do. Peoples personal data is becoming alarmingly

easier to obtain. Our preferences, our addresses, telephone numbers, and Social

Security numbers all are sold routinely. In a 1995 United States survey, 80 percent

agreed that consumers have lost all control over how personal information about them

is circulated and used by companies (Summers, 23). Some of the most powerful

companies and corporations are powerful because of their ability to obtain private

information at anytime. Microsoft, the computer software company, is powerful

because it designs the operating system that millions of people use to organize and

transmit data. The Washington Post is powerful because it screens, sorts, and defines

“the news” for influential readers (Bacard, 33). The average person has little power

because he absorbs data form others rather than transmitting data to others. Computer

companies have been trying to come up with ways in which a person can have some

assemblage of privacy. Privacy is important to people. People do not want others to be

able to get this information. Privacy is about power. Information, in the hands of people

who know how to use it, is power (Bacard, 33). John Fiske argues in Power Plays,

Power Works that people are divided in two distinct groups; the “haves” and the “have

nots.” The “haves” are those with imperializing power, the dominating group.

Localizing power would be the group of the “have nots.” Localizing power refers to the

weaker, resistant group. Privacy relates to Fiske’s theory quite explicitly. The

government, criminals, and businesses would be the “haves,” while everyday citizens

would be the “have nots.” Everyday people do not have the power to ensure their

privacy like the “haves” do. This is mainly because the imperializing powers try to

prohibit the localizing powers from ensuring their privacy. The government has come

up with regulations on the export of cryptography to control the “have nots.”

One method computer companies have come up with to ensure people privacy is

passwords. Passwords are everywhere. People have passwords for phone cards,

credit cards, cash cards, and on the Internet. The idea behind a password is to make it

so someone trying to access your data of hardware is thwarted by inconvenience

(Tiley, 77). The harder you make your password, the harder it is for someone else to

figure it out, and the safer your information is. Deciding on a good and safe password

is the meaningful to privacy. There are many factors in choosing an effective password.

Using numbers and punctuation marks intermingled in your password is a good idea.

Choosing a password that is longer in the number of characters is also efficient. Also,

having your password be case sensitive is important. All of these factors will greatly

increase your rates of security. For example, a password that can contain letters,

numbers, punctuation marks, and is case sensitive allows the user to choose from about

56 different characters. A six character password in this context would have

30,840,979,456 different combinations (Tiley). Increasing your password to seven

characters would have over a trillion possibilities (Tiley, 83). However, a longer

password is optimal, you must choose one that you can easily remember. It will take a

hacker no time to find your sticky note with your password on it in your desk drawer. A

password is easy to remember and hard to guess (Summers, 341). Seeing as how

passwords can have billions and billions of possibilities, one would assume that

passwords are extremely safe in guarding personal information. This not entirely true.

Hackers have computer programs that will try all the words in a standard dictionary, or

every number combination. If you had a simple word or number, your password would

have been found out. Choosing a short word or number is not efficient. An important

date can easily be obtained by a hacker or anyone who simply wants your information.

Experience has shown that more than half the passwords chosen can be easily guessed

or cracked (Tiley, 79). This fact demonstrates the importance of choosing a safe and

efficient password.

Another method of ensuring privacy that is becoming more common and efficient is

cryptography. Cryptography allows users to pass valuable information such as credit

card numbers, Social Security numbers, addresses, and anything else important over

the Internet without being intercepted by eavesdroppers. Cryptography is the art of

transforming information to keep it confidential or to protect its integrity (Summers,

45). The process of encoding and decoding information is called encryption.

Historically, encryption was used only in the military and for diplomatic reasons.

Reasons that deal with Fiske’s theory of power. The government wanted to

ensure that they ultimately had sole power of the encryption outflow. They have kept

tight reins on the “keys” used to translate coded text into plaintext, prohibiting the

export of secret codes under United States munitions laws and ensuring that the

encryption scheme used by businesses was weak enough that the National Security

Agency’s supercomputers could cut through it like butter (Elmer-Dewitt, 1).

However, this has now changed. Cryptography is now used to authenticate retail

transactions, secure electronic funds transfers, the military, email, to protect the

integrity of software and stored data, and to authenticate the identity of network users

(Summers, 45-46). Although, the export of encryption outflow is still regulated by the

government. By using encryption you can disguise the message so that if it is

intercepted, the contents will not be revealed. The cycle of encryption is easy to

understand. The original message is written in plaintext, the message is then encoded

by a cryptosystem. This text is called ciphertext. The ciphertext message is sent to the

receiver, where it is decoded back to plaintext (Pfleeger, 22). This simple method of

cryptography is very efficient in securing peoples privacy. Hacking an encrypted

message is virtually impossible to achieve. Encryption software due to its highly

mathematical nature, resists giving up its secrets, even to exports, because the output of

the program is entirely dependent on a key value given to the program when it runs

(Tiley, 217). For this very reason, encryption is becoming known as a virtually

foolproof method in ensuring privacy. However, obtaining the privilege of encryption

is difficult. Businesses who are allowed the use of cryptography have to pay a lot of

money to use it. This is the governments way of ensuring their right to control the

amount of privacy people can have. The government explains this use of power as their

way of protecting citizens from terrorist and spies. The government says that in order to

protect citizens from these kinds of dangers that they must control the use of

cryptography. However, a guy by the name of Phil Zimmerman did not find this reason


Phil Zimmerman came up with the idea of PGP or Pretty Good Privacy. PGP is another

method of computer privacy. Zimmerman’s passion for politics, computers, and

privacy led him to the production of Pretty Good Privacy. He essentially believed that

the power of privacy should be shared with the “have nots.” Zimmerman thought that

people needed to be protected from democracy. “PGP empowers people to take their

privacy into their own hands,” Phil Zimmerman (Bacard, 128). After Zimmerman was

finished with PGP, he gave it to a friend to try it out. His friend liked it so much that he

gave PGP to his friends, and they liked it, so they passed it on. Before Zimmerman

knew it, people all over the world were using PGP within months. Bulletin Board

Systems and Internet sites around the world made PGP available to their users

(Bacard, 128). However, when PGP was released, it ran into some political and

governmental troubles. Two legal issues whirled around the original freeware PGP.

First, was the issue of patents. PGP uses the technology of RSA, a public key algorithm

(Bacard, 81). RSA stand for Rivest, Shamir and Adelman, the creators of the algorithm

(Bacard, 81). The second problem with the distribution of PGP was that it spread

outside of the United States and possibly violated United States cryptography export

restrictions. The issue of patents with RSA was dropped because the company that now

distributes PGP bought the rights to RSA. The investigations on the export of PGP were

dropped in 1996. In spite of all this, PGP was a big success with businesses and

Internet users. PGP is a software program that uses encryption to secure the

information. Bob Smart who has written a front-end program for PGP says that, “PGP

does not so much increase privacy as it does restore a balance that has recently been

perpetuated away from privacy,” Bob Smart (Bacard, 138). It is an easy-to-use secure

computer program that encrypts and decrypts messages (Bacard, 128). PGP is

law-abiding despite its brush with the law in the beginning. The government did not

want to allow PGP to be distributed to everyday people because they did not want

people to have the privacy they deserve. The imperializing powers thought that they

could control the encrypted outflow of information that localizing powers had. Phil

Zimmerman distributed PGP for free because he did not want to become part of the

imperializing powers. In the end, PGP was allowed to be used in the United States and

was recognized as a foolproof method of ensuring privacy. Top-rate cryptographers

and computer exports have tried to break the PGP cryptosystem – without luck (Bacard,

137). PGP has been compared with having it take 600 locksmiths several months to

unlock the front door to your house, but you could change the lock in five minutes. So,

in the amount of time and the number of people it would take to decode your PGP

decoded message is a long, long time.

Computer privacy is important to people, and especially the government. With the

society in which we live, privacy is hard to come by, but something everyone desires.

The government has tried to control the amounts of privacy that people can have, and to

their dismay it has not worked. Everyday people have the right to protect their

information as does the government theirs. Just as the government has found a method

to protect their information so have everyday citizens. Passwords, PGP and

cryptography are all methods that both powers can and do use. The technology and

practice of computer security has responded to the rapid changes in context. The

people have also responded to these changes and have demanded privacy. The

imperializing powers will always try to control the amount of privacy people can have

as long as privacy is about power, and the localizing powers will always be under

control of the imperializing powers, unless we keep fighting against the government.

Phil Zimmerman mangaged to distribute PGP to help the localizing powers fight against

the imperializing powers. The imperializing powers will always have control over the

less fortuante, localizing powers as long as we let them.


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