Privacy in a Public Era

“The truth is the law can only do so much […] it comes down to us. And to fundamentally changing the way we think about the Internet. Because too often you hear people play down the dangers of the internet saying, “well relax, its not real life” ,but it is. And it always has been.” -John Oliver

When you begin using a social media platform, do you read the “privacy and terms” agreement? Most of us just click “agree”, and start posting. That one definitive click has become a social contract– a contract that takes away our privacy. When did we sign away our personal information and our right to keep it private? The issue of privacy was being discussed by Louis D. Brandeis and Samuel D. Warren, the authors of “The Right to Privacy,” published in 1890 in the Harvard Law Review (Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (p. 68). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.)

In the publication, Brandeis and Warren discuss “the right to be let alone”. Privacy is divided four ways according to the law: intrusion of solitude, appropriation of same or likeness, public disclosure of private facts, and false light. You would think with these encompassing claims there would be more protection nowadays. However, the rise of the Internet has redefined how the law treats privacy. This conversation has been growing over the past few years due to the billions of people using social media.

In June 2015, John Oliver discussed Internet privacy and revenge porn on “Last Week Tonight”. In between Oliver’s comments about his “spider hands”, he pointed out how the Internet has created a dangerous environment-specifically for women. He relentlessly challenged current laws (or lack thereof) regarding privacy on the web. Similar to Brandeis and Warren’s concept of “the right to be alone”, Oliver goes into the legal process of getting private information off of the Internet.

In this case, he discussed AnneMarie Chiarini’s struggle to get her personal photos off of a pornography site. She didn’t make the account, nor did she upload the photos to the Internet. After seeking legal advice, she was told she had herself to blame and to just “ignore it”.

Telling women that revenge porn uploaded against their will is their own faults is deeply troubling. Currently, 38 states have laws against revenge porn. The root of this problem goes back to the unclear nature of content put on the Internet. Our dilemma is that we live in a time where everything seems to be public. People share their every thought and opinion in tweets and statuses. The line has been blurred between personal and public property. It’s said the Internet is forever, but does this mean we have sacrificed our right to keep anything to ourselves?

This unofficial social contract we’ve made with the Internet will lead to bigger and bigger issues until parameters are clearly set in law.


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