Internet and privacy; US vs Europe

Sandor Spruit (
Mon, 02 Aug 1999 10:17:27 +0200

Hi all,

[First off, I'm already subscribed to FoRK for quite a while, but I'm
usually lurking and just rarely posting :) Sometimes there are just to
many messages to respond to them all, sometimes I don't feel like

In brief: I'm a software designer and programmer at Utrecht University,
the Netherlands. Working on educational software or rather on tools to
help teachers build their own software to support their classes. All
Internet-based. Java, Beans and XML all over the place]

Now on to the real issue: a collegue of mine wants to tell students
about privacy in relation to Internet technology. In fact, she'd like to
ask students to find as much personal information as they can get their
hands on, about a particular person. The idea is, of course, to find out
that there's a substantial amount of information to be found out there.
Preferably stuff that you would not expect to be publically available :)
And of course, all of this as a serious "information mining" exercise,
not just a joke !

Now the question is: who should the students go after ? Someone
well-known to them that you can find enough juicy, true details about,
he he :) And while I'm at it: how about differences between the US and
Europe ?
How concerned are people in the US about "Big Brother" issues ? If I
recall this correctly, there's a dispute between the US and the European
Union about privacy legislation. On the one hand, it looks as though you
Americans are far more open about things like salaries, financial
information. One the other hand, privacy does seem to be an issue (EFF,
FBI, clipper chips, encryption ..). Or is it that the American public is
generally more open about lots of things, as long as it's not the
government listening ? Could it be that you can, in general, find out
more about an average American (via on-line records) then about an
average European ?

Opinions, pointers and suggestions most welcome !