Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Privacy depends on our common sense

By · Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Last week, I went with a friend to a doctor’s appointment as support while she got a second opinion about a serious medical issue. At times, I was privy to her medical history, her family’s medical history and her current medical condition, including her weight. She laughed when I assured her that “nothing I hear will leave this room with me.”

Her privacy depends on my integrity.

Compare that with another scenario that same day in the same doctor’s office. A woman and her son walked up to the reception desk. For whatever reason, the receptionist did not direct the woman to the “privacy area” adjacent to the reception desk, where my friend and other patients had gone when they first arrived. Instead, the receptionist asked several questions of the woman, who freely answered them right there, out in the open. When their brief conversation ended, I had learned the young man’s name, his birth date and get this — his social security number.

To pass the time, I sat there and thought about all the things someone could do with that information. A lot.

I guess you could say that young man’s privacy, too, depends on my integrity.

Privacy is something everyone worries about and tries to protect to some degree on the Internet and with social media. But every day, in many ways, it is still up to us to be prudent about what information we share and how we share it. I’m sure that mother in the doctor’s office had a lot on her mind. I can understand how, in the comfort of a doctor’s office, she wouldn’t hesitate to answer the questions asked of her. I don’t blame her for how she shared it.

I do, however, question the judgment of the receptionist.

Common sense. My day with my friend was a reminder that we must think about it and use it as we go about our daily lives — because others around us don’t always keep it in mind.

Emilie Davis

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