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Cyber Civil Rights, Revenge Porn, Social Media

when did privacy become old-fashioned?

December 17, 2014

When did privacy become old-fashioned? When did information security become an oxymoron?

Do we just assume that the emails, voicemails, texts, photos, videos we share privately are part of the public domain?  That private information, even if obtained illegally, can be circulated legally among millions online all in the name of the freedom of speech?

The recent Sony hacking scandal and celeb nude photo distribution both seem to pit the right to privacy against the right to free speech. But this is a knee jerk and harmful way to frame the issue of the public’s right to hacked information.

Speech and privacy are both fundamental human rights. No democracy can exist without both. As wired citizens living networked lives, we’re losing our control over private information.  And without an expectation of privacy, we lose an entire category of free speech:  private speech.  The kind of speech we engage in only when we trust it’ll stay private.

With the scope and reach of the Internet and the for-perpetuity staying power of stuff that gets posted, we’ve created a culture of humiliation.  Humiliatertainment is our new pastime.  And each time we click, tweet, link, or post something that embarrasses somebody else, we’re perpetuating it.  Succumbing to clickbait is an economic decision.  One that generates ad revenue and improves search engine results and helps things go viral.  Humiliation is a commodity.  Privacy, too.

We’re all concerned – even paranoid when it comes to government surveillance, creepy corporate data mining, our information being hacked.  But just because privacy is already under siege by mighty forces, it doesn’t mean we can turn on one another and cannibalize it further.

People hide behind the right to free speech to justify all sorts of wretched invasions of privacy – sharing nudes without consent, taking upskirt photos, filming sexual assaults, bullying.  And also as agents of dissemination – when downstream actors text, tweet, post, link, Facebook, Instagram Snapchat, retweet, etc. that very same stuff.  In most states this distribution is legal.

It’s crazy, though. Laws protect our credit card and social security numbers from distribution. But hey if your genitals wind up on the Internet? They’re everybody’s to share.

All of us having things to hide.  And every right to that.