Saturday, October 29, 2016

Who's Watching Us?

Do We Know Who is Watching Us and What We Are Doing?
By Jim Vail
Special to

You know Facebook is big when the newly elected prime minister of England made an appointment to speak to Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and head of a new state. They have mutual interests.

But those interests run contrary to what people here believe is a constitutionally protected fundamental right – Privacy!

The book “I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did” is a must read for all of us who are part of today’s internet world.

Kent Law School professor Lori Andrews, who is considered one of the country’s leading experts on cyberspace law, writes in her book that as we increasingly use the internet to work, shop and date, we are opening ourselves to intrusive privacy violations by employers, the police, and aggressive data-collection companies that sell our information to any and all takers.

Companies will reject candidates due to Google searches, robbers will use vacation postings to target homes to break into and lawyers will use social media to use against us in court, and the legal system isn’t protecting us. Judges have ruled against thousands of victims of privacy violations. In fact, our very democracy is in danger.

“Governments in democracies exist to protect their citizens and uphold their rights,” she writes. “Public health officials, like other government agents, are limited in the type of data they collect and publicize about citizens. Similarly, the police need probable cause and search warrants to collect evidence. Constitutional restrictions on governmental action apply. But what happens when state and federal agencies circumvent those rules by turning the job of evidence over to private citizens using social networks – or ask the social networks themselves for private information from people’s photos and posts? Should that evidence also be subjected to Constitutional constraints?”

Andrews proposes a Social Network Constitution to protect our privacy.
The book is a disturbing read into how our personal information is being used. She says Facebook is a nation that holds the cards, and its citizens have little recourse. Several federal laws that were created for the internet protect social networks from almost any liability so they cannot be sued for invasion of privacy, defamation or criminal acts based on people’s postings.

Social networks turn people’s private information into income streams, utilizing a “very sophisticated commercial surveillance system.” And to opt out is nearly impossible because of how they constructed cookies software that tracks everything you do on your computer. “But unless people’s rights are protected, social networks will serve to narrow people’s behavior and limit their opportunities, rather than expand them,” Andrews writes.

Behavioral advertising has proven very effective to sell products online, you being product No. 1. Facebook encourages people to reveal more intimate details about their lives by rewarding them with more “likes” and more attention from posts.

“Weblining” is the practice of denying people certain opportunities due to their online activities, such as using zip code information to charge someone a higher interest rate. This can also affect the information you read because browsers will tailor stories that you are interested in, possibly leaving out important information about the world. Celebrity gossip replaces world political events on your daily news feeds.

Andrews writes that today people are turning to state laws because the federal laws do not protect their privacy. For example, a woman installed spyware on her husband’s computer and the wife was found to have violated the Florida wiretap statute.
“So far, in the social network realm, little attention has been given to the rights of individuals.”

Andrews believes the Social Network Constitution can invigorate our cherished freedom of speech by guaranteeing the right to connect, which should not be abridged by concerns about intellectual property infringement or vague notions of national security (Wikileaks was exactly what the Founding Fathers said should be protected), and guaranteeing the right to anonymity that protects people’s right to express their opinions (people who protested online in Egypt were identified and imprisoned).    

Andrews noted that Finland bans employers from Googling applicants, while Germany is also considering a law that would stipulate that social networks are private spaces that employers, schools or other institutions should not have access to.

Next week we will feature the second part of our book review that will take a look at specific social network cases being challenged in the courts and how the outcomes affect us all.

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