Amazon is experiencing a significant increase in the number of access requests for personal information. Reportedly, the tech giant has not been as quick as other large corporations to respond to consumers, due to privacy issues.

Higher demands on Amazon for the data it holds raises issues concerning the realities of legal processes related to stored information.

Privacy issues

The vast majority of legal experts consider privacy an inherent right. Individuals have the natural legal right to privacy when it comes to their personal affairs. This is an undisputed right for governments the world over. However…

  • Due legal process does require access to relevant information in any sort of court procedure.

  • Parties to a dispute have the right to subpoena any information regarding a case, regardless of the type of information or the form of information.

  • Refusal to supply information requested under a subpoena is a breach of law.

  • Government agencies have the right to issue a search warrant for information. That right is not disputed.

Despite certain urban myths, search warrants and subpoenas are not some kind of get-out for those who seek to avoid privacy laws. These procedures are fully documented and quite time-consuming. They are also subject to review by a court and opposing parties in any dispute or law enforcement scenario.

The problem is largely down to the environment in which privacy may be overridden by laws. Trust and confidence in relation to privacy breaches is at an all-time low.

Amazon has openly acknowledged these issues by appearing to be very pro-privacy. And that’s all well and good. But the problem for Amazon is that it actually has no choice but to comply with subpoenas and search warrants.

Other problems exist that are less obvious. Amazon is a vast global business. Almost anything can be subject to subpoenas and/or search warrants, for any legitimate legal process. That means Amazon may or may not be drawn in to any commercial or law enforcement dispute to provide evidence.

This is not a great situation for Amazon. One the one hand, the company is committed to maintaining privacy and compliance with privacy laws. On the other, it has a huge exposure to the legal realities. Another costly issue is the volume of data access requests can be expected to expand over time.

How much of a risk to privacy?

According to a news report by Digital Journal, the privacy advocates may be on the wrong bus for their various arguments in these cases. Subpoenas are standard legal practice. Search warrants are standard practice for law enforcement.

The big privacy issue, in fact, is the TYPE of information which is now available. Commercial transactions and law enforcement are no big deals in common legal practice, but what about personal information? To what extent can personal information be off limits to these processes?

Information about relationships, etc. is a grey area. If a private detective wants information about a relationship, can they subpoena through the client’s lawyers? Not really, unless there’s a legal process involved.

They may, however, be able to access personal information which is bound up in the hard information. So can other parties, getting a bit more value from subpoenas. Although legal practices tend to be very conscious of compliance requirements, some information may be built in.

In theory, subpoenas and search warrants are always case-specific. In practice, it’s a likely outcome that some other information may be mixed in, to the detriment of privacy.

Collateral damage

Some types of information can lead to revelations. A person may be conducting private business, but not want that information to become widely known, for whatever reason. “Extracurricular” work by professionals, for example, may not be in the ambit of a search warrant or subpoena, but come to light as a result. Tricky professional relationships and business may be compromised.

The risks are real enough for privacy advocates to maintain a hard line on basic rights. Privacy, by definition, should be what you want to be kept private, rather than some broad brush approach to privacy. Amazon is perhaps the best example of the sheer scope and range of possible privacy issues.

The other part of this equation is that Amazon is the big picture. Other businesses are very much in the same position. You’d have to be able to make a case for privacy based on specific issues to protect your privacy. It’s a tricky proposition in the face of these all-covering legal procedures, and some privacy may be at risk as a result.

Expect to hear a lot more on this subject as the privacy debate expands in to the sort of new areas Amazon encompasses. It’ll be a rough ride for privacy all round.

Source: Digital Journal

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