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Information Technology: Your Right to Privacy

12 Feb

by: Jessi Galloway

Can you imagine knowing the names and locations of every gun owner in your area? What if your name was on that map? What if it wasn’t? Do you feel safe with millions of strangers knowing where you live and if you have a gun?

The question I pose today is not rather one should or shouldn’t own a gun, but rather if our right to privacy has been violated by interactive information technology using public records to pin point gun owners, like the map below.

Screen shot 2012-12-26 at 4.39.31 PM

Map Provided by Times NewsFeed

This map was featured on a New York newspapers website this past December, in response to the Newtown shooting. The interactive graphic gave viewers the names and addresses of licensed gun holders in the two areas of New York. It soon became apparent that the graphic caused major issues of safety for gun owners and non-gun owners alike.

Outcries from the involved communities, in response of the map, lead to great controversy. Those who owned guns feared lash back from those who do not support the gun laws, while those having no firearms feared their homes may become a target for burglary. Some of the gun owners listed are members of the New York Police Department and retired veterans, yet their private information was posted on this map much in the way we post interactive maps of convicted sex offenders.

The Publics Right to Know Verses the Individuals Right to Privacy

So, what are our rights exactly? What information do we consider to be private? William and Mary’s Bill of Right’s Journal states,

“Information privacy involves an individual’s personal information and his ability to control that information. Personal information includes data assigned to an individual, such as a social security number, address, or telephone number.”

Public databases and interactive technology have made such information available on the web, where in most cases the individuals are unaware of it, or at least until it’s too late. Once information is out on the web, it’s near impossible to control it. Are our rights as an individual being abused by this type of technology? The majority seems to be in agreement that the map was a major invasion of privacy, however, like with all stories, there is another side to it.

The purpose of the map was in response to those who wanted more information on gun owners after the recent shootings that have shaken our nation. Homeowners felt they had the right to information concerning gun permits in their area. The Journal News staff defended its action, reported by the New York Times,  saying it was their job as journalist to report such controversially topics.

They asked for tighter gun restriction. Well, they got it… sort of. A new law was imposed as a result, only this law was to protect gun owner’s privacy. Ultimately, the map was removed and only a static version can be viewed by the public.

What are the alternatives?

The greatest issue here is that the information was too specific and far too intrusive. Is a news story more important than the safety of an individual, or several in this case? I should hope not. Perhaps a better alternative would have been to provide a statistical chart featuring only the percentages of handgun owners in certain areas.

The public is still being offered general information without offering specifics that could make individuals a target for lash back or their homes a target for theft. There is balance between the public’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy that must be adhered to lest we find ourselves in another situation like the one created in New York.