INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IS CONSIDERED A MAJOR THREAT TO privacy because it enables pervasive surveillance, massive databases, and lightning-speed distribution of information across the globe. In fact, privacy has been one of the most enduring social issues associated with digital electronic information technologies. A fixture in public discourse at least since the 1960s, when the dominant concern was massive databases of government and other large institutions housed in large stand-alone computers, concerns have multiplied in type and extent as radical transformations of the technology have yielded the remarkable range of present-day systems, including distributed networking; the World Wide Web; mobile devices; video, audio, and biometric surveillance; global positioning; ubiquitous computing; social networks; sensor networks; databases of compiled information; data mining; and more. Associated with each of these developments is a set of worries about privacy. Whether expressed in the resigned grumbles of individuals, the vocal protests of advocacy groups and eloquent politicians, or the pages of scholarly publications and popular media, the common worry time and again is that an important value is a casualty of progress driven by technologies of information.
Countless books, articles, and commentaries call for reform in law and policy to shore up defenses against the erosion of privacy due to swelling ranks of technology-based systems practices. Many of them argue that protecting privacy means strictly limiting access to personal information or