Surveillance 2: Should we be our own coppers?

Is self-regulation enough to protect our privacy?

E-merchants want to know as much as possible about you. As an individual, you want to preserve as much of your privacy as possible. In a world increasingly driven by e-commerce, can anything reconcile those two competing interests? TRUSTe, a non-profit consortium formed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and sponsored by e-commerce heavyweights including AOL, AdForce and Microsoft, thinks industry self-regulation is the answer.

Public interest groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Centre scoff at that idea, arguing that government regulations are a more effective means of safeguarding privacy online. Analyst Paul Hagen, of Forrester Research, cautions that 90 percent of Web sites don't comply with the most basic privacy protection principles. It also notes that TRUSTe and other industry-backed programs have barely made a dent in the online marketplace.

If you own a business, you owe it to yourself to build intelligent policies that help you understand your employees and customers without invading their privacy. As an individual, it's up to you to identify threats to your privacy and deal with them appropriately.

Ralph Nader, founder of the American Consumer Project on Technology says: "We'd like to see privacy policies posted on Web sites. Companies would have to conform to a standard, then give people a direct civil right of action for any invasions of privacy that can be documented, and give them the right to correct the files.

He continues: "It's a more expanded right than they now have with credit bureaus and paper files under the old law. Give them notice, give them correction and give them a civil right of action. These are all private initiatives, but the infrastructure is created by the government, so if it sees a really outrageous abuse, and it's used for bad ends, then the government would have its own actionable remedies."

Take me to the Surveillance 2 ZDNet News special.

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