At the intersection of technology and privacy

At the intersection of technology and privacy

Where (and when) does the legal sector intervene?

After reviewing the fascinating panel discussion hosted by The National Press Club last week, Attorney Report continues the important examination of the notion of privacy, individuals and privacy-eroding technology.

The basic question at hand is just how far new technologies will go in stripping away an individual’s privacy and right to contain personal information; and whether governments, the legal system, or the people affected will step in to keep these new-tech companies in check.

If you had a chance to watch the panel discussion in full –and it’s definitely worth the watch –then you probably concluded that governmental agencies, including federal agencies as well as Congress, will not be the likely candidates for stepping up to the challenge of protecting individual privacies.

That leaves the individuals themselves, and the legal sector.

A lot of commentary by experts and the well informed on these issues tend to suggest that people will only become actively organized to protect their data when some near catastrophe or majorly disruptive event involving their personal data occurs.

I disagree. In the United States, users of information technology can be divided into two groups: The minority group of well-informed users, and the majority group of uninformed, blissfully unaware users.

That is to say that the majority of IT users, in America, at least, have no real knowledge of how the technology they use daily actually works, or how it can be applied to work against their best interests.

If the majority of users gained such understanding, we’d probably see a strong, concerted push-back upon the accelerated erosion of their digital privacy, and against the companies spear-heading that erosion.

In case you think that’s an over-reaching prediction, consider the following:

Ars Technica, the online technology publication, reports that Internet Service Provider companies (ISPs) will now begin “throttling” their customers on a regular basis. If you’re caught visiting a piracy website, or uploading copyrighted files, your connection will be throttled, or significantly slowed down. You’ll receive email warnings from the ISP –supposedly, until you either stop such behavior or provide an accepted response.

Or, consider that Facebook users don’t actually own copyrights to their personal photos uploaded to the social networking site. According to an updated clause in their User Agreement, Facebook co-owns the rights to those photographs with you. And, their right to use your pictures however they want supersedes your personal copyrights.

What happens when more users of social networks endure experiences like that of Abraham Riesman, a Twitter user whose profile and tweets were hash-tag referenced then posted to an article on a major news site about a convicted rapist with the same name?

Countless other conflicts exist, and more are headed down the pike. The fact that the Ars Technica report was filed under the imprint “Law and Disorder | Civilization & Discontents” doesn’t increase edification of the masses.

Nor does the Twitter story posted to BetaBeat | The Lowdown on High Tech. Even when Mr. Riesman tweeted about the dicey mix-up and received help from a follower and fellow journalist, the majority would not have benefited.

That’s because when the educated, informed information technology user communicates about such privacy infringements, their voices are heard only by those already in-the-know.

A centralized system for educating the masses on information technologies is sorely needed. I.e., it needs to be an integral part of the curriculum in public school systems nationwide.

Perhaps when that happens, new generations will have a solid understanding of ubiquitous technologies and use them with more care, or demand that their personal information be under their strict control.

And if governments turn a deaf ear, it will be up to the next generation of lawyers and jurists to take heed, stand with them and take (legal) action.