The Internet offers many benefits. Web sites provide a vast world of information, entertainment, and shopping at our fingertips. Electronic mail, instant messaging, and chat rooms enable us to communicate with friends, family, and strangers in ways we never dreamed of a decade ago. But the Internet also creates many threats to our personal privacy. The Internet raises some unique privacy concerns. Information sent over this vast global network may pass through dozens of different computer systems on the way to its destination. Each of these systems is operated by its own administrator and may be capable of capturing and storing online communications. Furthermore, your online activities can potentially be monitored by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and by web sites that you visit.
Internet Privacy issues encompass concerns about the collection of personally identifiable information from visitors to government and commercial Web sites, as well as debate over law enforcement or employer monitoring of electronic mail and Web usage.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, debate over the issue of law enforcement monitoring has intensified, with some advocating increased tools for law enforcement to track down terrorists.
On aspect of the Internet “Online” privacy debate focuses on whether industry self-regulation is the best route to assure consumers privacy protection. The United States Supreme Court has stated that American citizens have the protection of the Fourth Amendment (freedom from search and seizure absent warrant) when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. Without a reasonable expectation of privacy, however, there is no privacy right to protect. Files stored on disk or tapes in the home are protected, but the rule becomes less clear when applied to files stored on an Internet access provider's server. Federal law, on the other hand, may protect web servers. Some argue that consent of the access provider, however, is all that is required for law enforcement authorities to search and seize any files in the possession of that access provider. Internet service providers may have a lot of information about the users because servers routinely record information about users' e-mail and web browsing habits. The right to privacy in Internet activity is a serious issue facing society.