Internet Privacy Issues Threaten Our Freedom
By Jim Vail
Special Chicago News
Special Chicago News
In a country that values its freedom, why do we allow our communication nerve center to be under constant surveillance?
Kent Law Professor Lori Andrews has written a frightening account of how the government and corporations watch our every move on the social networks giving us no privacy. She proposes creating a Social Network Constitution, similar to the US Constitution, which gives us the right to protest our government, protect us from unlawful searches and give us the freedom of speech.
That freedom which we hold dear in the Constitution does not exist on the social networks we visit every day.
“Are social networks public or private,” Andrews writes in her book I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did. “If a woman invited 20 people into her home, the police would not be able to enter without a warrant based on probable cause. If her boss wasn’t invited to the party, he would not be permitted to eavesdrop electronically on the conversations there. But what if a woman has 20 Facebook friends? Is that a private gathering or a public one where any third party – from the cops to the boss – can use whatever the woman says against her?”
In the age of the internet, Big Brother is watching our every move and we the people have no legal document to protect us.
In 2011 when this book was first published, Facebook started sharing home addresses and cell phone numbers of its users with third-party websites, something most of its users would never consent to.
What people post has been used against them. Schools, employers, mortgage brokers, credit card companies and many other social institutions seek information from social networks in order to make judgements about people. For example, one college grad applied for a job with a major talent agency that canceled his interview because of a drinking photo on his website.
According to Andrews, judges have been granting opposing counsel’s requests for everything a person has posted on Facebook. In one case a disabled wife asked for spousal support in a divorce, but her husband convinced the court to admit her recent Match.com profile, showing an active lifestyle. The court denied her request for support.
“The underlying structure of Facebook – the impression that you are speaking to only your friends – is what provides the impetus for people to provide more intimate, personal, and revealing details than have ever been shared on the Web,” Andrews writes. “People’s gut feeling that what they are posting is private is a belief that it is reasonable for society to protect under the right to privacy.”
Right now people do not receive adequate warning about the implications of posting on social networks or using the Web more generally. The lawyers write up those long notices we have to click to agree, but people don’t read or understand them.
“Even in our exhibitionist culture, people long for privacy.”
One survey in 2010 showed that younger adults tend to be more cautious with their online privacy than older ones.
The Social Network Constitution would mandate that the default setting on social networks should be that no one would have access to your information unless you specifically agree after adequate warnings about the implications of giving up your privacy in a particular online setting and adequate disclosure about who will be using that information and for what purposes.
The protection of anonymous posters is an interesting question. If free speech is to be encouraged, anonymity might be warranted, Andrews writes. But for a robust discussion, shouldn’t the identity matter in order to know who stands behind the comment. People write letters to the editor of the newspaper and they have to identify themselves. That is not the case online.
One person was posting numerous comments about court cases, sports and even the relatives of reporters. One post about the mental state of a relative of a reporter upset the editor, who looked up the email and linked the address to Judge Shirley Strickland. The judge sued the newspaper for $50 million for invading her privacy. It turned out that the judge, who posted comments about many of her cases, did not like the newspaper’s coverage of her courtroom. The reporter she attacked had quoted what she once told a woman who pled guilty to credit card fraud: find a man. “Men are easy,” the judge told the defendant. “You can sit at the bus stop, put on a short skirt, cross your legs and pick up 25. Ten of them will give you their money. It’s the truth … If you don’t pick up the first 10, then all you got to do is open your legs a little bit and cross them at the bottom and then they’ll stop.”
Eventually the judge dropped her lawsuit and settled with Advance Internet for an undisclosed sum. Advance Internet now blocks newspaper employees from accessing the email addresses of people who post.
When Facebook introduced its facial recognition software to users worldwide, it silently enrolled all users in the program without their permission. There is no option in Facebook’s privacy preferences to prevent the collection of biometric data. But in Germany in 2012 Facebook had to promise to forgo using facial recognition software and delete previously used photo tag suggestions after the Germans said it violated EU and German laws by storing data without the express consent of users.
So why is Facebook allowed to do this here?
Is Facebook really our friend? Do we really want our every move to be recorded and used by whatever group is watching us? The Chinese government is building a massive network of hidden cameras and facial recognition software to monitor its citizens in public spaces. The US government wanted to do the same thing. When the Dept. of Homeland Security proposed initiating facial recognition technology in the US, it met such resistance that the program was scrapped. Fine, let Facebook do it.
In the European Union when a person’s personal data is collected, the parties responsible are required to inform the person who they are, why they collected it and for whom it was collected. Do we not want that here?
“In the digital age, let’s face it, there’s no money in doing the right thing. But as people begin to realize the risks of their posts being used against them, the demand for rights-protecting technologies and policies is growing.”
America, wake up! Let’s get this Social Constitution Network passed to protect our online freedoms as well!