Privacy Law and Policy Reporter
compiled by Graham Greenleaf and Nigel Waters
Dr Peter Grabosky, Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Criminology, recently gave a paper entitled Computer Crime: A Criminological Overview to the 10th United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders in Vienna. It assesses the risk of various types of ‘digital crime’ and includes a brief discussion of the privacy issue:
At a higher level, nations around the world are in the process of forging policies on where to draw the line on such fundamental questions as the balance between the citizen’s privacy and the imperatives of law enforcement, and freedom of expression versus the protection of certain cultural values.
The Federal Government has issued a blueprint for online delivery of government services — Government Online — at <www.govonline.gov.au>.
Source: Senator Ian Campbell, media release 6 April 2000.
More than 18 months after its introduction, the Canadian Government has passed landmark e-commerce privacy legislation. The new law is slated to take effect 1 January 2001. The Bill passed unanimously except for the Bloc Québécois, and Royal Assent was given in early April. The Bill as passed by the House of Commons in October is on the web at <http://www.parl.gc.ca/36/2/parlbus/chambus/house/bills/government/C-6/C-6_3/C-6_cover-E.html>. The Senate made an amendment to give an extra year before the Act will apply to health records.
Source: Internet Law News Wednesday 5 April 5 2000.
Anyone interested in the recent decision by the Federal Government to allow returns for the next census to be optionally preserved for historical purposes, and concerned that this might be a thin edge of the wedge, may be interested in a recent submission by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner Bruce Phillips on release of 20th century Canadian census returns <http://www.privcom.gc.ca/english/02_05_e_09_e.htm>. It has some pointed arguments about privacy as a social interest, long term privacy protection, how unreasonable intrusions into private affairs are assessed, the ethics of historians and possible genetic implications.
Privacy advocates have urged the US Congress to extend constitutional search-and-seizure rights to the internet to protect consumers who shop, join groups and bank online from Big Brother.
A group of lawyers, law professors and policy analysts testifying before the House Judiciary Comittee said they worry that the vast amount of personal data from web surfers collected by companies and advertising agencies will wrongly end up in the hands of law enforcement.
In acknowledging that computer files are a rich source of evidence for government investigators, the group asked that Congress bolster privacy laws by applying 25 year old Fourth Amendment protections to cyberspace.
‘People sense with growing unease that everywhere we go on the internet we leave digital fingerprints which can be tracked by marketers and government agencies alike,’ James Dempsey, senior staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, wrote in a speech.
An FBI request for additional funds to ‘data mine’ public and private sources of digital information has set off an alarm in the privacy watchdog community. In addition, the Justice Department has proposed changes to electronic surveillance laws that would beef up law enforcement power to investigate crimes like hacker attacks.
Government lawyers and investigators complain that they don’t have the resources to adequately combat cybercrime. But Dempsey and the others who testified said current surveillance laws are weak, outdated and don’t address the sweeping changes on the Net. For example, many of the protections in wiretap law don’t apply to email and other online communications.
‘If the right to privacy is to have any meaning, then the mere fact that technology makes access to personal information both possible and easy should not eviscerate the individual’s expectation of privacy,’ testified Nicole Wang, attorney with San Francisco law firm Perkins Coie.
The committee took the comments and suggestions under consideration.
Source: Patricia Jacobus, CNET News.com. 6 April 2000.
Microsoft Corp has promised free internet tools based on emerging privacy standards for controlling how much information web users reveal.
Coming from the world’s largest software company, the tools could give impetus for websites and other companies to embrace the Platform for Privacy Practices, or P3P. The World Wide Web Consortium, an internet standards group, may finalise P3P this summer.
Richard Purcell, Microsoft’s chief privacy officer, said the tools will help consumers better understand how sites track visits and pass along information to other parties.
A formal announcement is expected in a few weeks.
Internet users are increasingly concerned about websites that create profiles of email addresses, favourite books and clothing sizes for marketing purposes. Sites often disclose their intent in privacy statements that are difficult to find and understand. The Microsoft tools, to be released this fall, will translate such statements into machine-readable form and let internet users block access to sites that collect too much.
Using the software, web users will state what types of information they are willing to give, as well as whether they mind sharing that information with outside parties. Internet users will receive a warning before visiting sites that go beyond that level.
Microsoft plans to make the tools for its browser, Internet Explorer, and for the competing Netscape browsers.
Lorrie Cranor, who heads a P3P working group, considered Microsoft’s decision important, saying ‘in order for P3P to be widely used, there has to be good user software available. The question I always get is, “Is Microsoft going to implement it?’” she said.
Still, critics believe websites won’t have incentives to join, rendering such tools and standards meaningless. Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp and a critic of P3P, said wide adoption remains years away.
Source: Associated Press 7 April 2000.
A New York Times feature on 3 April 2000 covers the growing incidence of identity theft in the US at <http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/00/04/biztech/articles/03theft.html>.
Law enforcement authorities are becoming increasingly worried about a sudden harps rise in the incidence of identity theft, the outright pilfering of people’s personal information for use in obtaining credit cards, loans and other goods.
Source: Quicklinks 151 at <http://www.qlinks.net/items/qlitem7223.htm>.
A New York Times article on 5 April 2000 reported on employers’ monitoring of their employees email. Hundreds of companies are looking at their employee’s email on a routine basis, and their numbers are soaring. Whatever the reason, the snooping raises a number of questions about ethics and privacy.
Source: Quicklinks 151 at <http://www.qlinks.net/items/qlitem7203.htm>.