The Value of Digital Privacy in an Information Technology Era

Information technology has today altered the way people interact in the society (Banisar, 2011). As connectivity and information becomes readily available to different geographical and demographic sectors, digital privacy has become more valuable (Waldo, Lin& Mille, 2010). On the other hand, privacy has been one of the most enduring social, ethical and law issue associated with digital electronic information technologies in America (Calabrese, 2004).

To some extent, organizations have a legitimate need to access information about an individual in order to make intelligent decisions regarding those individuals. Different technologies are used to access private information in different countries. First, America makes use of computer merging (Fang, 2002) in order to access private data. This is a computerized technique that extracts information from two or more unrelated databases containing information about a certain individual or individuals. The information obtained is further integrated into a composite file. This is done when two or more parts of information contained in separate databases is combined (Schwartz, 2004). Computer matching technology on the other hand is used to merge computerized records. This technology cross-checks information in two or more unrelated databases to produce matching records (Fang, 2002). This is usually used in federal and state governments to create files for law violators and suspects. Lastly, biometric technology is used to generate private information about an individual. It uses unique biological components of an individual including finger prints and faces to identify individuals (Waldo et al, 2010)

Public access to citizens’ private data helps the welfare state to know about the population to enhance efficient policy making and know about different individuals to enable appropriate public service delivery (Schwartz, 2004). Citizens are also able to get more visible to the state and a better access to appropriate public service. On the other hand, public access to citizens’ private data changes the character of citizenship in relation to the state. Many people also feel that accessing private data for individuals is detrimental to societal values since it reduces individual responsibility for obeying the law. It also violates civil liberties and personal freedom while reducing the private sphere of life to something that is measured, quantified and controlled by the government. Publicly provided information can also be combined with privacy in unpredictable and undesirable ways (Stewart, 2011).

Citizens can protect their private information or information they do not want to be disclosed through various ways. They can for instance use detection tools to detect when information has been stolen, damaged or altered and determine who committed the act. Individuals may also use recovery systems that can allow them to recover stolen or damaged information (Fang, 2002). They may also set private information as confidential through security programs which prevent unauthorized disclosure of information. They can also use integrity systems which involve prevention of erroneous modification of information. Private information can also be protected through authentication processes. This process verifies that users are who they claim to be when accessing a computer system or other systems. This may be enhanced through usernames, passwords or biometric technologies. Individuals may also consider authorization processes by allowing only authorized person to access given information (Waldo et al, 2010).

Although there are no constitutional guarantees on privacy, America has designed some federal laws to protect the private information that the government may have access to about their citizens and important portions of private sector including educational, financial and healthcare institutions (Fang, 2002). The centre for privacy rights is laid in the Fourth Amendment of America’s constitution. It states that all citizens have a right to be secure in their houses, persons, effects and papers against unreasonable seizures and searches (Schwartz, 2004). It also states that individual privacy rights shall not be violated and no warrants can be issued without a genuine cause as supported by affirmation or oath which should specify and describe the place to be searched, and the things and persons to be seized if any. Privacy Act of 1974 also restricts the way the federal government may deal with private information about citizens (Stewart, 2011). It in this case prohibits the government agencies and person from disclosing private information to other people without the consent of the affected parties. Although I agree with these laws since they protect individual rights of privacy, they on the other hand prevent government officials from searching private property without a probable cause and warrant.

Even during security threats and increased security crime, the government’s ability to access private correspondences of citizens should be limited. America’s government uses FBI carnivore system to monitor instant messages, e-mails and digital phone calls which at times infringes the privacy of its citizens. Under the Digital Act Telephony Act of 1994, the law prevents the government (Schwartz, 2004) from searching and seizing computer records, work product materials and other personal electronic records without a warrant issued by the court (Calabrese, 2004). These laws are very important and effective in maintaining Americans’ rights to privacy.


Banisar, D. (2011). The Right to Information and Privacy: Balancing Rights and Managing Conflicts. USA: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / World Bank.

Calabrese, T. (2004). Information Security Intelligence: Cryptographic Principles and Applications. USA: Library of Congress.

Fang, Z. (2002). E-Government in Digital Era: Concept, Practice, and Development. International Journal of the Computer, the Internet and Management, 10(2), 1-22

Schwartz, P. (2004). Property, Privacy, and Personal Data. Harvard Law Review, 117(7), 2055-2128.

Stewart, J. (2011). CISSP: Certified Information Systems Security Professional Study Guide. Canada: Wiley Publishing.

Waldo, J., Lin, H. & Mille, L. (2010). Thinking about Privacy: Chapter 1 of Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age, Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality 2(1), 19–50.

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