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Some General Thoughts on Privacy

Privacy on the Internet has become a really great concern to ISPs, their corporate clients as well as their regular users – that makes it virtually anyone. Unlike the European Union (EU) countries and Canada, the United States does not yet have serious regulations regarding privacy on the Internet. Even though there have been some widely publicized cases of privacy violations and also considering the fact that US holds a very significant share of the world’s Internet industry, privacy can hardly be considered a seriously protected area.

Even though there are some laws that can be occasionally applied to Internet privacy problems, there is no general online privacy law at the federal level. While there have been a very large number of reports and inquiries about this issue, the U.S. Congress responded to these concerns through passing one single Internet-specific law – the COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). Despite being an important one, this law only applies to the collection of personal information from minors (children under thirteen), and adults must seek alternate means of online privacy protection.

Another important law passed by the U.S. Congress is the USA PATRIOT Act. It does address privacy and the Internet, but it can hardly be considered an online privacy law. Why? Because it is overwhelmed by the shadow of 9/11 terrorist attacks and it is far too sprawling by affecting fifteen different statutes. Before we proceed with some additional details about this law, let’s start with its name. USA PATRIOT Act is an acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”. Period.

Well, the act itself is indeed very important but nobody can seriously take it as an online privacy law (even though this statements has its defenders). The guys at EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) strongly disagree by criticizing the USA PATRIOT Act to be a way too overreaching, ineffective in truly fighting terrorism and finally – a violation of civil rights. On a side note, the way I see it EFF are somewhat obsessed with the protection of civil liberties and they’ve made some statements on various issues that are arguable and very difficult to justify. But this time, regarding the USA PATRIOT Act I do fully agree with them.

Anyway, no matter what one thinks of the USA PATRIOT Act, be advised that this is primarily criminal legislation that despite being very important to those affected by it, has little impact on the day-by-day activities of most companies conducting business over the Internet.

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