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CMIS 108
Dr. Bijoy Bordoloi
Computers and Privacy
• These notes focus on the various topics
associated with maintaining individual
privacy rights in a computerized society.
Specifically the topics of ethics and the
potential illegal use of computers and
other important topics such as data
security are covered
Databases and Personal Privacy
• Government Databases. The government
maintains very large databases - over 2,000
of them - each containing millions of records
– The Social Security Administration maintains welfare benefit
and eligibility records
– The Internal Revenue Service maintains income and tax
– The Department of Defense maintains military service
– The FBI maintains records about you, regardless of whether
you were ever found guilty of a crime
Databases and Personal
• Computer matching can be used to match data
from different databases to identify individuals
engaged in wrongdoing, e.g. federal employees with
delinquent student loans or use by the Internal
Revenue Service to identify people underpaying
Databases and Personal
• Computer profiling is the use of
records to identify individuals who fit a
pre-determined "profile," for example,
the IRS profiling of people they regard
as likely tax evaders
Databases and Personal
• Private Databases. The greatest issue
is with the privacy of personal issue
because the computer offers access to
invade an individual’s privacy Examples
– Credit card usage that is tracked
– Telephone usage that is tracked
– Abuses include selling addresses/data to
Bordoloi other businesses
Databases and Personal
• Social Security Numbers. These are
favorite targets of individuals who
engage in fraud
• Database Inaccuracies. What happens
when the information in the database is
Privacy Law under the
• The Supreme Court has ruled you have
constitutional privacy rights that fall into three
general areas
– The right to make personal choices about intimate
matters such as child-rearing, education,
marriage, medical care, etc.
– The right to make personal choices about nonintimate matters, such as the clubs to which you
belong or the people with whom you associate
– The right to be left alone
Privacy Law under the
• So far, the Supreme Court has not
recognized an individual's right to
prevent the collection and dissemination
of personal data by the government
Federal Legislation
• Electronic Communications Privacy Act
of 1986 - prohibits federal or state
officials from accessing, intercepting, or
disclosing email or other electronic
communications without a search
Federal Legislation
• Fair Credit Reporting Act - gives
consumers a right to obtain a copy of
their credit report, and to challenge
incorrect information. Also regulates the
distribution of investigative consumer
reports and requires consumers be
notified when an investigative consumer
report is requested by someone
State Legislation
• State laws vary widely. Illinois has a
statute guaranteeing privacy protection
Privacy at Work
• Can your employer read your e-mail?
Three recent court cases upheld the
employer's right to archive and review
employee e-mail, as well as to terminate
employees based on e-mail contents
Privacy at Work
• Computer monitoring involves using
computers to monitor employee
activities and worker performance. For
example, clerks can be monitored to
determine if they are working at an
appropriate speed. Workers complain
that the monitoring adds stress to their
Privacy and Cryptography
• Public-key Cryptography - the science
of keeping messages secret by
encoding them
• A secret key (sequence of
numbers/characters) is used with an
algorithm to encrypt/decrypt messages
• Important for Internet commerce where
people send critical data such as credit
• Society has reached a point where it is
dependent on computers. Computers
are found everywhere and are important
in business and in our personal lives. An
individual responsibility is to understand
the use of computers so that we can
better direct their application for
society’s benefit
• The standard code of ethics for computer
professionals also applies to people who use
computers. The main points from this code (from the
textbook) include:
– Avoid situations that create a conflict of interest
– Do not violate the confidentiality of your employer or those
you service
– Never misrepresent or withhold information that is germane
to a problem or situation of public concern
– Do not violate the rights or privacy of others
• Take appropriate action when exposed
to unethical or illegal practices
• Do not exploit the shortcomings of your
employer’s computer system for
personal gain (don’t steal by using the
Computer Crime
• Each year it is estimated that the total cost of
computer crime exceeds all robberies
• The few laws dealing with computer crime are mostly
federal and deal and make it a crime to illegally
access a federal computer system
• Over 50% of computer frauds are internal - diverting
funds, illegally copying software
• Computer Hackers - these people attempt to tap
into computer systems illegally, sometimes just for
• Software Piracy - This includes the theft of
intellectual property and is covered by the Copyright
Law of 1974