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Information is the source of data about individuals or events, which for various reasons may require being confidential. However, there are various cases where personal information in corresponding public agencies may be beneficial for individuals.

On one hand, many may argue that keeping personal information in the home drawer, so nobody knows more about you than it is generally allowed, is much better than letting various institutions possess such information. However, there may be some incidents, when the data can be lost or used by undesirable individuals. In cases like that, there is a need for duplicate information to prove personal innocence. This essay is an attempt to analyze the role of government agencies in protecting the interests of public within the frames of individual privacy despite the fact of presence of various stereotypes and prejudice within many citizens that the government agencies are not trustworthy of their personal identification records.

Institutions like governmental agencies are specially obliged to protect the public interests. In this case, the role of courts is also included. Particular personal information is gathered by government and court to keep records about individuals, which helps to identify the cases of theft and allows maintaining the profile data about the consumers. It stimulates the development of the society where individuals are tracked according to the electronic data that they leave after making various transactions, which discloses their personal details (Barber, 2006).

Despite the fact that the aforementioned personal information is a valuable source of data for commercial interests, it is significant to remember that, but the state does not have any obligation to disclose it. On the contrary, the government agencies are called to protect those individuals who disclosed their personal information to the state because they were forced to do so.

According to Solove (2002), all the governments tend to collect and then use that personal information about its citizens in order to govern. Most frequently, government records include data that contain personal information about individuals, and many of those records have been open for public inspection for a long time. Furthermore, Solove (2002)  is also convinced that the government and the courts should moderate their need to collect information: they have to be both obliged to be open to the people and, at the same time, they have to be able to protect the individuals’ privacy.  

In most countries, every individual in order to have government services support, to organize and conduct their business with the government, and to be a generally law-abiding citizen should disclose their personal information to this institution. That is achieved through the provision of at least their basic personal details, such as home address, phone number, and e-mail among others. In its turn, the government must protect the interests of the public by maintaining the privacy of personal information in corresponding government files.

Regan (1995) argues about the protection of individuals’ rights and possible commercial pressures. The scholar states that none of the commercial entity compared to the government must protect public interests (Regan, 1995). At the same time, it is seldom when individuals possess the power to protect their personal privacy from commercial pressures to treat their personal data as a commodity (Regan, 1995). For the aforementioned reason, the main purpose of the government records statutes is to strengthen public understanding of the government’s activities and operations.

As the availability of different personal information in government’s records can be used for various commercial and, sometimes, criminal purposes, the aggregators of commercial data tend to take the government records for gathering the individuals’ information (Kirchgaessner, 2005). Such practice has been conducted for fraudulent purposes.

Perez and Brooks (2005) provide as an example of the aforementioned fact the case of the ChoicePoint, which is considered as the US largest information broker, which in 2005 sold on about 145,000 Americans’ personal information to a criminal ring that were engaged in identity theft. The scholars state that the broker sent letters to California residents that were about their notifications on the wrongful disclosure of their personal information, most of which it obtains from government files.

Zeller (2005) describes the ways in which government records can be used to create dossiers on citizens. There is a possibility for computer scientists to replicate the methods of such companies as ChoicePoint through the databases linkage. In this case, such data as campaign donations, death records, property tax information, and occupational license registries are considered. Moreover, the scholar states the possibility to enter a single name and generate various sorts of individuals information such as birth date, occupation, home address, phone number, and other details of the family for less than $50.

The aforementioned fact provokes the question whether the government should take any steps in order to retain sensitive personal information from the Internet disclosure. As the evidence suggests, the companies tend to turn a profit from collecting and selling such information. They usually do that by organizing open government records requests. Thus, the state actors should have a strong obligation of protecting personal information from unwarranted disclosure and keep it confidential.

The US citizens, in order to prevent the profit imperative are protected by various privacy statutes.  However, various privacy interests of a single individual are not strong enough to fight against prevailing commercial interests. At the same time, Brandeis and Warren (1890) are convinced that most Americans realize their privacy entitlement that are under the claims recognized by tort law.

The records that are open by the government are an inseparable part for development and functioning of democracy. It allows citizens to evaluate and further understand how the state and local government work. Moreover, those records are also considered as a valuable tool for protecting individuals from the intrusion of the government into personal privacy.

The principles of EPIC

There is a set of information practices, which helps to limit the use by the government of personal information (EPIC, 1997). Those principles are the guidelines to set the boundaries regarding the collection, disclosure, use, disposal, and retention of personal information by the government. The principles that are the basis for various world privacy codes and laws of practice are as follows:

  1. Limitation of collection, which is about setting the limits to the collection of personal data. The data should be obtained by fair and lawful means and, if applicable, it should be gathered with the consent and knowledge of the subject’s data.
  2. Quality of data, which is about the relevance of personal data to both the purposes of its gathering and to the extent of the necessity of those purposes. It should be kept up-to-date, complete and accurate.
  3. Specification of purpose, which is on the necessity of defining the purpose of data collection; it should be specified no later than the time of the collection of data. The use of the data should be limited mainly to concrete purpose fulfillment, and in case the data type, which is needed to be changed and, thus, is incompatible with the previous purpose, it should be repeatedly specified on each occasion.
  4. Limitation of use, which is on the availability of personal data when disclosed merely for the specified purposes except for the cases of law authority of consent of certain data subject.
  5. Safeguards of security, which is on the protection of personal data by corresponding security guards against the risks of its unauthorized access, loss, modification, disclosure or destruction.
  6. Openness and accountability, which is on the need of data’s general openness policy regarding the development, policies and practices. A custodian of the data should comply with the measures that give effect to the aforementioned principles.
  7. Participation of the individual, which is about its right to obtain the confirmation from a data custodian on the data relation to the individual, whether the  custodian has communicated that issue with the individual within a corresponding timeframe and reasonable manner and charge, if  applicable, and in an intelligible manner. It is significant to note that in case there are any reasons for the denied access, it should be explained accurately. An individual also has  a right to challenge the data relating to him, and in case it is successful, he or she has the right to have the data completed, amended, erased or rectified.  

As we see, government agencies are those institutions that try to keep the records open to a certain extent in order to maintain the development and functioning of democracy. In this case, individuals’ rights are protected by legislation. At the same time, a set of the aforementioned principles helps both limiting the use of personal information by the government and sets the boundaries regarding various activities with such data; it builds the basis for various world privacy codes and laws of practice. Thus, to have personal information used appropriately, citizens should be aware of their rights and possible challenges in order to prevent the usage of their data for commercial purposes by various brokers realizing the government’s role.

References

  1. Barber, G. (2006). Personal information in government records: protecting the public interest in privacy. SLU_PUBLREV_2006. Retrieved from http://www.graysonbarber.com/SLU_PubLRev_2006
  2. Brandeis, L. D., & Warren, S. D. (1890). The right to privacy, 4 Harvard L. Rev. 193.
  3. Kirchgaessner, S. (2005). Access denied: The data industry may face new restriction after privacy breaches. Financial Times, 20, p.17.
  4. Perez, E., & Brooks, R. (2005). File sharing: for big vendor of personal data, a theft lays bare the downside. The Wall Street  Journal.
  5. Regan,  P. M. (1995). Legislating  privacy: Technology, social values, and public policy. University of North Carolina Press.
  6. Solove,  D. J. (2002). Access and aggregation: Public records, privacy and the constitution. 86 MINN. L. REV. 1137.
  7. Zeller, T. (2005). Personal data for the taking: Students surfing public records learn it’s easy to find out a lot. The New York Times.
  8. Electronic Privacy Inromation Center. (1997). Personal privacy in an information society. The report of the privacy protection study commission. Retrieved from http://epic.org/privacy/ppsc1977report/.

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