Privacy

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press… -First Amendment


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated… -Fourth Amendment


Information can be categorized as that which is public and that which is private. Public information is assumed to be available for use without permission. Private information cannot be legally used without permission from its owner. Information is owned by the person it describes, not by the organization that gathers the information. Thus, my name and phone number are owned by me, not the phone company. Likewise, I am part-owner of my credit records and institutions with whom I did business are also part-owners of those records. However, even though we think some of this information should be private, that is not always the case.


The balance between public and private information has never been easy to keep, and in recent decades it has swung decidedly toward publication rather than privacy. Many items of information about you that you might not want generally known are defined as public and can be published without your permission. Some of these are your full name, your home address, your phone number, debts you owe, court judgments against you, courses you've taken, and police actions relating to you. In some cases, you can petition to have public information made private, but generally speaking, people who know where to look can find out a lot about you. Interestingly, laws and court cases over the years have made your medical records private; that is, they cannot be shared without your permission. Also, even though courses you've taken are public information, the grades you earned in those courses are private (talk about splitting hairs…).

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