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Privacy as Defined Today

What is ‘privacy’?

Privacy has long been regarded as a right that all individuals are entitled to enjoy. In 1928, American Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis defined privacy as "the right to be let alone". ( He also argued that privacy was a right that was cherished by most people. However, when he defined privacy, Justice Brandeis was living in a simpler world. His definition was made long before the emergence of the Information Age where someone's personal information can be rapidly captured, copied, compiled, published and transported around the world in a matter of seconds.

In the above example, you may just feel angry or scared on being watched. Nothing has suggested that your daily activities have been recorded, processed or even ‘sold’ to a third party. Things have however changed because of technological improvements. This includes the use of high-speed computers which can stored and processed huge amount of data at very low cost. Besides, data can easily be digitized and compressed for easy transmission and sharing. Personal data has a marketing value because it can help marketers to have their services or products promoted and drive sales, thereby leading to huge profits. As a result, in today's digital environment, personal information has become a highly sought after commodity that is collected and compiled, bought and sold. Information that we once regarded as ‘personal’ (such as our medical records, credit histories, spending habits) has now become ‘public’ data which is stored, shared, and even sold on the Internet. As businesses, government offices and web masters gain access to personal data, the protection of this information is becoming increasingly compromised. In addition, every time we click on to the Internet, we increase the possibility of being contacted by advertisers sending ‘spam’ or other unwanted or intrusive information.

In the above example, you will certainly become even more angry if you subsequently find out on an Internet homepage that your meeting with your girlfriend inside a coffee shop has been recorded into a video and displayed there. If you have some knowledge about digital know-how and use of the Internet, you may then know how this comes about. However, you may not have any of such knowledge and will be wondering how this can be so easily done.