Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Privacy and Personal Information

I would like to thank Icepick, whom I ran across in comment at Respectful Insolence, for allowing me to post this comment on the front page. Icepick is a human resources guy, who blogs at The Kitchen Drawer, even more sporadically than myself.

He describes himself thus, in response to my accusation of libertarianism;
I appreciate the kind words. However, I would like to correct one perception - I'm actually a (small-government) conservative and not a libertarian. While I generally like the idea of less government, I'm not as adverse to the idea of government as libertarians are, especially at the local level. I tend to think of government as a necessary evil, but the "necessary" part is just as important as the "evil" part, and I think libertarians badly underestimate the importance of government.


I would just respond that I actually agree with the sentiment, with the adjustment that few would call me very conservative. . .

HR departments have access (directly and indirectly) to lots of personal information, and we have a responsibility to protect that info, both from the public at large and even (for the large companies) from individual supervisors and such.

Great care has to be taken so that the HR departments don't even get some of the employee info. For example, HR departments should not have access to individual employee medical records. Most of the large companies these days are self-insured on the medical side, and so they do have an interest in managing employee health. To that end, third party providers generally manage the healthcare delivery system, and provide the companies carefully scrubbed data about employee health - records shouldn't be connected to individual employees.

The funny thing is this: I personally believe privacy is a dead concept in any event. (Note that in practice I excercise great care to protect the confidentiality of any records I deal with. It is my job afterall.) Technology has become so advanced that the idea that information can be kept private seems ludicrous to me. If someone REALLY wants to find out the facts on somebody else, they can do so if they're willing to spend the time and money to do so. As technology progresses it will become cheaper and easier to peal back the layers of privacy. Satellites can increasingly look through walls and ceilings, and if they can the tech they use can certainly do so at closer range.

I do believe we're rapidly approaching the day when we will all effectively live in glass houses. I'm not happy about this development, but I believe that's where we're headed nonetheless.

5 comments:

Beth said...

So Icepick, you think my argument against a Universal Health Care program sponsored by the US government is mute because I don't want them having all my medical info, since it probably isn't very private anyway?

Icepick said...

I think the privacy of the records is the least important argument against it. There are still concerns, because once the government gets ahold of the data, all kinds of bureaucrats will have easy access to the data. Also, anyone on Medicare/Medicaid already has let the government get ahold of their records, although that's sometimes only a state government.

BobApril said...

I do believe we're rapidly approaching the day when we will all effectively live in glass houses.

I tend to agree, though as you mentioned, time and money are factors, and they may serve to "protect" your privacy as long as you don't do anything to attract attention. Just to add to your argument, though, there's another factor that will serve to cut down on privacy - the population is not getting any smaller, not is it likely to anytime soon. We're not quite to the level of crowding shown in Soylent Green...but hey, the century is young!

Icepick said...

Just to add to your argument, though, there's another factor that will serve to cut down on privacy - the population is not getting any smaller, not is it likely to anytime soon. We're not quite to the level of crowding shown in Soylent Green...but hey, the century is young!

Bob, projections show that the worldside population should level off and even go into a modest decline sometime around 2050 to 2070. We won't know how reliable these forecasts are until, say, 2080, but there is some hope.

Two reasons come to mind for this trend: increased wealth and increased urbanization. Both facotrs tend to decrease the number of children people have.

DuWayne Brayton said...

We're not quite to the level of crowding shown in Soylent Green...but hey, the century is young!

Mmmm! People burgers. . .Sorry, another topic for another time. . .

I think that we're already seeing a leveling trend begin. Consider what we are up slowing from. I liken it to stopping a freight train, no matter how much awareness we have about the issue, it doesn't take a significant percentage of the population reproducing to carry the increases on for quite some time. But in effect, I think we're seeing it start to curtail now.

I also think there is a certain fear that the people who would do the most good, perpetuating the population, are the ones who also know better than to reproduce. This has something of a chill effect on slowing down the population behemoth.