Phone Privacy

By Henry Bagdasarian

People are sometimes forced to give up phone privacy and other times faced with the option to give up privacy in exchange for some type of benefit.

For example, various governments are increasingly tapping individual phones to listen and record all conversations in the name of national security and fight against terrorism. These intrusions may be triggered by certain key words spoken in the conversations or specifically targeted against individuals who present a serious and validated threat. But from reported news and leaked secret files, it is also possible that people who pose no threat to national security may also be targeted due to either flaws in the eavesdropping policies or for other surveillance reasons under the guise of national security. Unfortunately, there is no easy way for individuals to discover such intrusive activities and may even have little power to shift government actions quickly. However, what individuals can do is to be aware of the possibility that the privacy of their phones can be violated by governments and phone carriers and always assume the possibility of someone listening in on and recording their phone conversations.

Also, employees are sometimes given the option to give up the privacy of their phones by accepting to use their personal phones for business purposes allowing their companies to make decisions about their personal phones such as changing the phone security settings to their standards, viewing and deleting data stored on the phone remotely and at will, and monitoring the phone location at all times. Companies have all the right to take the necessary actions to protect their information stored on the employees’ personal phones if the employees have accepted to use their personal phones for business purposes in exchange for financial benefits, however, employees may also have the freedom to reject the use of their personal phones for business purposes and not allowing their employers to gain administrative access to their personal phones. This is not to suggest that employers are unethical and may violate the privacy of their employees beyond beyond what is necessary to protect the business, however, when phone access is granted, more than one employee has often access to the phone information and all that is needed is one person to be unusually curious to violate the phone owners' privacy. Also, businesses have the right to delete all phone information if the employees reports a lost or stolen phone which can also delete all the personal information on the phone. 

Although most privacy conscious employees would not give up the privacy of their phones by allowing their employers to take control of their personal phones for business purposes in exchange for some minor benefits, some employees may consider the option and be willing to say goodbye to their cellphone privacy.  Given the options and all the available information about privacy intrusion risks, people can decide whether or not they want to give up their cellphone privacy, but once they do, they should not complain about the lack of privacy. 

Let’s now analyze people’s rational for giving up privacy. Just as social media users may be willing to forgo privacy to meet their soul mate or share information with a group of global friends and family members, employees may decide to give up their phone privacy to avoid the burden of carrying two phones and related accessories, use a better phone that they would otherwise have to buy, receive reimbursement to pay for some or all of the monthly bills, or to avoid getting fired for not surrendering to their employers’ will and giving up privacy.

As mentioned, giving up cellphone privacy may be optional or forced upon us, however, cell phone users must weigh the benefits and risks of giving up privacy when they have the option. For some, the privacy of their physical location, conversations, and stored data may be more important than others, and every person must decide what their privacy is worth to them.

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