School of Engineering and Applied Science
Department of Computer Science
CSci 110 -- Technology and Society
Prof. Michael B. Feldman, course instructor

Week 2: Privacy


Social Impact Issues, Baase, chapt. 1.2-1.3, 9
Privacy and Information, Baase, chapt. 2, 3
Privacy and the Internet, Spinello/Tavani, chapt. 4

Prof. Martin's Notes on Privacy, Part 1 (PDF, 240 Kb)
Prof. Martin's Notes on Privacy, Part 2 (PDF, 420 Kb)
Prof. Martin's Notes on Social-Research (PDF, 40 Kb)

e sure to check out the links in the privacy notes!



HEADS-UP Advance Notice: Science Fiction Assignment (click for details)

Learning Activities:

A. Discussion and group mini-reports on Real ID research (by Sunday 6/3)

B. Discussion of Privacy Issues (by Sunday 6/3) -- groups will be assigned the following questions:

GROUP 1. Medical One way to solve the drug interaction problem that occurs if patients take drugs prescribed by different doctors would be to set up a nationwide (or worldwide) database system accessed by all doctors and pharmacists. Any time a doctor prescribes a medication, the doctor would check the database to see all prescriptions the patient is using or has used in the past, even those prescribed by other doctors. Would you consider this an invasion of privacy?

GROUP 2: Super PDA’s: In the future it will be possible for all of us to have personal telecommunication and body monitoring devices that we wear like a wristwatch. These devices will enable us to connect directly with anyone else in the world who wants to connect with us. They will also constantly monitor our body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, etc and will sound an alarm if any of our functions deviate from the norm. They will also be able to signal for medical help automatically for us. We would know from moment to moment what the state of our own health was and even if we were about to die! Discuss the pros and cons of such a device.

EVERYONE: Freedom: In George Orwell's book,1984, Big Brother controls individuals through sensors housed in the two-way (send-receive) TV screens located in all homes, offices, and public squares. The sensors tune in on people and monitor their heartbeats. In all, Orwell described 137 "futuristic" devices in 1984, which was published in 1954. About 100 of these devices are now practical. In fact a young physiologist, seeking to measure the physiological activities of salamanders, recently created a delicate instrument that can detect and record the animal's heartbeat, respiration, and muscle tension from a distance. The field of biometrics is perfecting technology for face recognition, iris scans, and palm print recognition. Does a democratic society have anything to fear from these technologies?

Other privacy scenarios to think about...

** DIDS: A Decision Information Distribution System, which is a low frequency radio network to warn people quickly of impending disaster, has been under development in the Pentagon. If this system is perfected, all citizens would be expected to buy a specially designed unit capable of receiving DIDS broadcasts warning of impending floods, hurricanes, military attacks and would provide other services. Because of the important warning function of the DIDS, the receiving units in homes would be turned on automatically by the message-sending agency. When questioned by Congress, a Pentagon representative admitted that the DIDS receiver could also be used as a transmitter from the home. Plans have been made to begin installing units on new TV's and radios. Discuss the pros and cons of DIDS.

** Computer matching: During the past decade the government has engaged in the practice of "computer matching." It has taken government files related to people from one agency and matched the records in those files against records in other government files. In one highly publicized instance, all of the records of people working for the Federal government were matched against the files of people who had not paid back their student loans to the government. Several hundred matches were found and those people received reduced pay checks until their loans were paid back. The government justifies this practice as a way to eliminate fraud, waste and abuse. Civil liberties activists claim it is comparable to an electronic illegal search. What do you think?

** National Databanks: In the late 50's there was a movement to establish a single National Databank to replace all the federal files that were kept about people - the Veteran's Administration, Social Security, the Internal Revenue Service, the welfare services, etc. At that time there was a public outcry against such a single federal database of information so it never occurred. Many people believe that we now have such a database, de facto, due to the ability of the government to match files using the social security number. What do you think?

** Recently-revealed federal-government projects to eavesdrop on international phone calls, collect basic data on all phone calls, and track international financial transactions. How much privacy should citizens give up in order to protect the country from terrorists? Should such projects be done only under court supervision, or can an Administration act alone? 

C. Read the notes on data gathering and discuss in your groups.