Privacy is a highly subjective notion; its interpretation changes over time and space. It has been said that privacy is “part philosophy, some semantics and much pure passion.”( Alan Westin, Privacy and Freedom (New York: Atheneum, 1967), p. x, as quoted in Bennett, Regulating Privacy, p. 13)

“Privacy is … a very personal notion. Within socially and culturally defined limits, privacy allows us the freedom to be who and what we are. The very fact that we are able to interact with others as we might like is because our privacy allows us that choice. By embracing privacy, we exercise discretion in deciding how much of our personhood and personality to share with others. We generally feel less vulnerable when we can decide for ourselves how much of our personal sphere they will be allowed to observe or scrutinize” (Sheri A. Alpert, “Privacy and Intelligent Highways: Finding the Right of Way,” Santa Clara Computer and High Technology Law Journal — Privacy and ITS, March 1995, p. 102).

Although there may be no universally accepted definition of privacy, in Canada there seems to be a common understanding that privacy should be valued and protected. Indeed, the value of privacy has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada:

“… society has come to realize that privacy is at the heart of liberty in a modern state … Grounded in man’s physical and moral autonomy, privacy is essential for the well-being of the individual”.(R. v. Dyment (1988), 55 D.L.R. (4th) 503 at 513, S.C.C.)

There is also a common understanding that control over information about one’s self is central to being a self-determining and responsible being.(Deborah G. Johnson, Computer Ethics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1985), p. 66, as cited in James H. Moor, “How to Invade and Protect Privacy with Computers,” The Information Web: Ethical and Social Implications of Computer Networking, edited by Carol C. Gould (San Francisco: Westview Press, Inc., 1989), pp. 60-61). The idea that information about oneself is one’s own, to communicate or not to others as one determines is referred to as informational privacy (Commission on Freedom of Information and Individual Privacy, Public Government for Private People, Vol. 2 (Toronto: Queen’s Printer of Ontario, 1980), p. 499), and is a central tenet of all data protection schemes, including Ontario’s. People feel that the loss of control over their own personal information has a significant impact on their ability to be autonomous.

In any discussion of privacy it is important to note that privacy is not an absolute right. Privacy must always be balanced against other needs of society.(Warren Freedman, The Right to Privacy in the Computer Age (New York: Quorum Books, 1987), p. 11)

It is acknowledged that government needs to collect detailed information on its citizens in order to serve the public good and to accomplish its statutory mandates. It is further acknowledged that advanced information technology, has the potential to provide many administrative efficiencies to government organizations. At the same time, it must also be acknowledged that with the use of a GIS there is the potential for abuse and for it to become a technology of surveillance and control. It is this potential, and the sense people have that they have lost control over their information, that are the primary focus of the privacy concerns relating to advanced information technology.

Necessity and Relevancy of Information

One of the most basic concerns is that there is a potential for privacy invasion whenever large quantities of personal data are collected and stored. Two associated concerns are:

1) that these potential invasions may go undetected as it is not always immediately obvious what harm results from the computerized collection, use, and disclosure of data; and 2) that the computer has changed the nature, as well as the quantity of the information collected, used and disclosed.

Generally with improvements in information-handling capability comes the tendency to use more data and to discard less. This, in turn, motivates the collection of more data on more variables.(Arthur R. Miller, The Assault on Privacy: Computers, Data Banks, and Dossiers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1971), p. 21, as cited by Bennett, Regulating Privacy, p. 29) Contributing to this tendency is the fact that once a system has been established, the cost of collecting, storing and analyzing additional information is marginal. As one author noted about information technology generally:

“The peculiar qualities of information … lead organizations … to collect more information than is socially optimal. By the same token, because each isolated bit of information on the citizen … has such a seemingly small “privacy cost” and because monitoring the bureaucracy’s use of that information has a high cost, individuals are incapable of acting in their own interests” (Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., “The Surveillance Society: Information Technology and Bureaucratic Social Control,” Journal of Communication, Summer 1989, p. 66).

Privacy in Cybercrime

Overview of Privacy in relation to cyber crime: [1] Increased personal information online means increased opportunities for someone to use that information in an inappropriate manner. This unauthorized use of information may then be used for abusive or criminal purposes such as identity theft or harassment. Certain practices of Internet companies that maintain Web sites that routinely use browsers to mine data for personal information are also significant threats to Internet privacy. As consumers perform Internet searches and disclose personal information online, companies can record and store data that may be personal or describe online activities. Further, Internet-based companies often require user registration that involves submitting information that enables identification techniques. Similar practices can extend to online purchases and product warranty procedures forced on consumers. Personal information can also be revealed through online activities such as using email and managing financial accounts. Spyware commonly downloaded or installed by unwary consumers also constitutes another threat to online privacy because it forwards personal data to third party strangers without the user’s knowledge or consent. Information forwarded in this manner can range from computer or financial account usernames and passwords to the URLs of Web sites visited, and names, email addresses, and phone numbers of persons listed in contact lists. [1]

The Legal History of Privacy

This section provides an overview of Privacy

Privacy on the Internet and the Electronic Commerce

Privacy on the Internet in the Online Business Law

Online Advertising in Cyberlaw

Advertising in Cyberspace

Spamming in Cyberlaw

Spamming, Email Marketing and the Law of Unsolicited

Commercial Email in Cyberlaw

Commercial Email

Online Gambling in Cyberlaw

Online Gambling

Consumer Protection in Cyberlaw

Introduction to Consumer Protection in Cyberspace

Data Privacy in Cyberlaw

Data Privacy

Data Security in Cyberlaw

Internet, Network and Data Security


Embracing mainstream international law, this section on privacy explores the context, history and effect of the area of the law covered here.

Privacy regarding Banking Law

This content deals with legal and regulatory aspects of Privacy covered in connexion with financial law and banking / lending Institutions.



This entry provides an overview of the legal framework of privacy, with a description of the most significant features of privacy at international level.

Related Work and Conclusions


See Also

  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Internet Advertising


See Also

  • Civil Liberty
  • Civil Right
  • Legal Right
  • Citizen Freedom
  • Political Liberty
  • Constitutional Right
  • Political Right
  • Freedom of Speech


See Also

References (Papers)

  • A Healthy Amount Of Privacy: Quantifying Privacy Concerns In Medicine, Ignacio N. Cofone, Mar 2017
  • The Privacy Policymaking Of State Attorneys General, Danielle Keats Citron, Mar 2017
  • Privacy Law’s Precautionary Principle Problem, Adam Thierer, Feb 2017
  • The Glass House Effect: Big Data, The New Oil, And The Power Of Analogy, Dennis D. Hirsch, Feb 2017
  • Targeted Advertising And The First Amendment: Student Privacy Vs. Protected Speech, Marco Crocetti, Jan 2017
  • Table Of Contents, Jan 2017


Further Reading

  • The entry “privacy” in the Parry and Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law (currently, the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 2009), Oxford University Press


Notes and References

1. By James P. Colt

See Also

  • Types of Cybercrime
  • Cybercriminal

Further Reading

Brodkin, J. (2007). ChoicePoint details data breach lessons. PCWorld Web page: (internet link),132795/printable.html; Collier, B.P. (2007). Privacy on the Internet: What is reasonable in a wired world? The Practical Lawyer, 10, 17–23; Honeycutt, J. (2004). How to protect your computer from spyware and adware. Microsoft Web page: (internet link) windowsxp/using/security/expert/honeycutt_spyware.mspx; Larkin, E. (2006, June). New privacy threats. PCWorld, 24(6), 20–22;McQuade, S.C. (2006). Privacy infringement, In Understanding and managing cybercrime (pp. 247–264). Boston: Allyn & Bacon; Privacy International. (2007). A Race to the bottom—Privacy ranking of Internet services. Privacy International Web page: (internet link) article.shtml?cmd%5B347%5D=x-347-553961; Web page: https://; Simpson, M.D. (2007, April). Savaged in cyberspace. NEA Today, 25(7), 23; Totty, M. (2007, January 29). Technology (a special report): How to protect your private information: Your life is an open book; it doesn’t have to be. Wall Street Journal, 01, 1–5; Willard, N. (2006). Cyberbullying and cyberthreats: Responding to the challenge of online social cruelty, threats, and distress. Eugene, OR: Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.


See Also

  • PPC Advertising
  • Social Networking
  • Online Business Law
  • Internet Law
  • Spam
  • Startups
  • Internet Tax
  • Crossborder Commerce
  • Technology Law
  • Terms of Use


See Also

  • Legal Biography
  • Legal Traditions
  • Historical Laws
  • History of Law

Further Reading


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