2. Privacy and Freedom of Speech

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Group of pirogues at sunset on the river bank of Don Tati, Si Phan Don, Laos. Basile Morin CC BY-SA

  • Privacy represents an important area of society that is being impacted by computers. Just Google for your favorite recording artist or movie star. They don't have much privacy - there are pictures of them everywhere. Their personal information is very public.
  • Freedom of speech takes on new meaning in cyberspace. While it is possible for repressive regimes to control print and broadcast media, it is much more difficult to control online publication. This is especially true when the source of the information is outside the jurisdiction of those endeavoring to control speech.
  • General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) aims primarily to give control to European Union citizens and residents over their personal data and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU. It also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

Your personal information may not be so public, but it could be. See how easy it is to find your phone number and address using one of the online services. While this is great if old friends are trying to reach you, it could be a problem if the interest is unwanted.

In this topic, we will look at issues surrounding privacy and how to protect your personal information. The "worst case" is identity theft - a growing problem that is extremely hard for the victim to recover from. Being aware of these issues is an important first step.

Learning outcomes

  • explore the topic of Privacy through reading, media and related assignments
  • facilitate an online discussion about Privacy
  • explore web resources associated with this topic
  • learn about blogging and personal publishing on the web
  • consider how society is impacted by the application of computers and the Internet to Privacy issues


  • privacy, data collection, surveillance, Fourth Amendment, personalization, privacy regulations, public records, communications interception, encryption, freedom of speech, media, spam, ad blockers, offensive speech, censorship, anonymity, net neutrality, General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), 2-factor authentication, phishing

Study questions

  • How do you feel about your own privacy when you are using technology? Are you more or less concerned than transacting in other media?
  • How safe is your personal information?
  • Do you think "big brother" is watching you?
  • Should we have a National ID system? What difference would it make?
  • If more health data was collected, researchers could cure more health problems. Do you agree? Would you allow you health records to be shared with researchers if your personal identity were hidden?
  • Is there a right to privacy? How far should that extend? What limits are necessary?
  • How has the internet changed the meaning and application of the First Amendment's protection of freedom of the press?
  • What is offensive speech? What should be prohibited or restricted by law in cyberspace?
  • What must be done to protect children in cyberspace? How is this different from protection elsewhere?
  • How is the Communications Decency Act being viewed by supporters and opponents?
  • What are some of the outcomes that could result from the global nature of the internet? Access to information? Different points of view? Lies and propaganda?
  • Should anonymity be allowed? Encouraged? Protected?
  • To what extent can new communities develop over the internet? Are these "real" communities? What makes them special?
  • Is the internet a communication system that is totally neutral - without conscience, principle or morality?

Study Questions from Former Students

  • Should distribution of information online and offline be regulated more strictly?
  • How do privacy regulations in the United States differ from those in the European Union?
  • Do the people who work for the companies that abuse personal information understand that they too are at risk or are they protected with anonymizers, encryption and privacy protection software?
  • Who am I if someone steals my identity?
  • What kind of benefit does a credit bureau get for selling "header" information from credit files?
  • Do you think setting up rules for children under 13 is going to work?
  • Is there any way we can check when people steal our information?
  • Do we need tracking devices or will they end our rights to privacy?
  • Do you think there really is such a thing as personal information if everyone has access to it?
  • What do you do to prevent cyber-attacks?


  1. Before you start the reading and the assignments, take a few minutes to think about what you already know about the topic - Privacy and Freedom of Speech. Write a sentence or two about this in the I know... discussion.

  2. Read the Study notes for an overview for the topics that will be covered.

  3. Read, view, listen to several selections in the Media lists. There is no textbook for this course, so you will have to determine how many of these resources to read and watch. Use the study questions and assignments to guide your research. Have you found answers to most of the questions? If not, look for other sources of information. This is self-directed learning.

  4. Choose 2 words from the Keywords list. Find 1-2 resource that provides information about the words and how they relate to the course. Post the words, links to your selected resource, and a brief description about your selections, to the discussion Privacy and Freedom of Speech keywords.
    Review 2 other resources in the discussion, and write a brief reply for each.

  5. If you haven't read the course Syllabus - CIS 2 Computers and Society, do it NOW. There is a lot of important information here.

  6. To gauge your personal risk, and find tips for lowering it, take the safety quiz at IDsafety.net. http://idsafety.net/

  7. Add a small picture to accompanies your posts in the discussions. Edit your profile - any small image file can be uploaded. For best results, it should be 100x100 pixels in size.

  8. Find one resource that talks about privacy and computers that you think is particularly interesting. Write a brief summary of the key point and a "critical thinking" question about the social issues discussed. What is the impact on society? Why is this important? Be sure your question will encourage discussion on why this is important. Post the web address of the Privacy resource you selected, a sentence that prompted your question, and your question to discussion topic Privacy and Personal Information. Facilitate your discussion and participate in at least 2 other discussions.

  9. Blockchain - The goal of blockchain is to allow digital information to be recorded and distributed, but not edited. Blockchain technology was first outlined in 1991 by Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta, two researchers who wanted to implement a system where document timestamps could not be tampered with. The launch of Bitcoin in January 2009 brought world attention to blockchain as "cryptocurrency". Blockchain Explained describes blockchain technology and applications in food safety, healthcare, contract records, and more. What issues with privacy and security are addressed with the various forms of blockchains and cryptocurrency? Review at least one article and post a link to the article you reviewed and a note about your understanding to the Blockchain discussion. -- revised 2021.1.18 cryptocurrency --

  10. Blog -- (weB LOG) - A blog is a journal that is available on the web. The activity of writing articles or journal entries on a blog is "blogging" and someone who keeps a blog is a "blogger." Blogs are typically updated frequently using software that allows people with little or no technical background to update and maintain the blog. Postings on a blog are almost usually arranged in chronological order with the most recent additions or "posts" at the top. Video logs (vlogs) are increasing in popularity as more people have the ability to record and play video.

    Search the web and find a blog or vlog on a topic that interests you. This could be an expert in a particular field or just someone who records a personal journal that is good reading/viewing. There are many directories of blogs and vlogs, too. Write 3-4 sentences describing the blog or vlog that you selected, and post it along with the web address to the discussion Blogs/Vlogs of Interest.
    Visit several of the other blogs/vlogs in the discussion and comment on at least 2. What does blogging/vlogging indicate about society today? Do you have your own blog/vlog? What is your point of view? Why do you blog/vlog? How often do you add new entries? Do you follow others regularly? Which ones? Why?

  11. Just like a tattoo, your digital reputation is an expression of yourself. It is highly visible, and hard to remove. Explore how your online identity affects you, your friends, your school and your job - for better and for worse - and how to make informed choices. Take the self-assessment at Digital Tattoo http://digitaltattoo.ubc.ca/quizzes/protect-what-would-you-do/
    2019.1.15. Looks like there is no submit button for the quiz. Listen to the podcast https://soundcloud.com/user-953700283.
  12. What is the internet, really? When we talk about the internet, what does that look like? Hardware, software, networking, communications, manufacturing, sales and service providers. Pick one aspect of the internet infrastructure and find 2-3 resources that provide information to help understand what the internet is, its components and operation. Post a summary of your findings and the links to the Internet infrastructure discussion. Review the posts of 2 others and comment on the relationship between your findings and theirs.

  13. Learning Literacies - Protect it - Digital Citizenship. We have already looked at a number of these issues. Here is an opportunity to review 2-3 articles in the Protect it media selections, and then search online for another good resource on the topic. Rate 2 articles. Post a link and a brief summary of the reasons for each of your selections to the Learning Literacies - Protect it discussion. Review 2 others.

  14. Specific areas of interest. We don't have a textbook, so the topics covered in the course are somewhat flexible. If you have questions or topics that you want the course to explore, post a note to the Interesting topics discussion. If you waant to examine a related article, include a link as well.

  15. Reflection - Read Things You Really Need to Learn written by Stephen Downes in 2006. Downes suggests ten life skills that are still being discussed today. What is the ONE best piece of advice? What would you add? This should be no more than 3-4 sentences. Use the I think... 2 assignment to submit your note.

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