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The Internet’s Role in Your Personal Privacy

0 Comments 27 April 2012

 The Internet’s Role in Your Personal Privacy

As people use the Internet more frequently and provide more personal information via social media sites such as: Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, there is an increasing tension between a United States citizen’s right to privacy and freedom of speech, and the government’s desire to monitor its citizenry to protect against unlawful actions.  With this tension only growing, those in the legal field must be aware of these concerns and prepared for future instances where public sentiments and proposed government legislation could potentially clash.  With the Internet already established as a medium to provide higher and vocational education, attaining suitable knowledge and certification is easier than it was in the past. Individuals with a desire to enter the legal field now have outlets to study for their online paralegal certificate or even their online Juris Doctor.  As social media networks and other social Internet outlets grow into ubiquity, having individuals suitably educated can only aid in the effort to not only reach consensus with governing bodies when privacy concerns are on the table, but ultimately to ensure that the rights of free speech and individual privacy (as stated in the First and Fourth Amendments) are protected.

One recent example that has many advocates of the First and Fourth Amendments worried is reporter James Bamford’s article for Wired magazine, in which he details the United States government’s construction of $2 billion dollar monitoring facility in Bluffdale, Utah. The facility (called the Utah Data Center) is being built under the aegis of the National Security Agency (NSA) for the purpose of tracking American’s online activity, cellphone calls, emails, and other electronic communications in the name of cybersecurity. However, such monitoring is ripe for abuse and may violate the Fourth Amendment, which states that citizens are free from unreasonable search and seizure. Most distressingly, according to Bamford, the NSA has succeeded in developing a crytanalyzation technique (the ability to break encrypted computer code) that will allow the NSA to monitor civilians’ encrypted banking transactions, as well as discover civilians’ passwords.

 The Internet’s Role in Your Personal PrivacyBecause social media and the internet are relatively new phenomena, there are few laws that protect users’ privacy and freedom of speech. The most applicable is the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which was passed in 1986 and which limits the degree to which law enforcement can obtain and used stored electronic communications and data, though the ECPA, due to its age and the manner in which is was written, has a number of loopholes and is sometimes difficult to apply to modern-day electronic usage.

The PATRIOT Act, passed in 2001 by President George W. Bush, allows law enforcement agents more freedom than the ECPA to investigate and monitor electronic communications, including personal records such as medical and financial documents, even if the person being monitored is not necessarily a suspected terrorist (the act was passed shortly after the September 11 Attacks, with the stated goal of protecting the United States against further terrorist attacks).

Recently, there have been a number of examples of American citizens being expected to give up their right to privacy. Currently some employers ask potential hires to provide their user name and password for their Facebook account, so that the employer can assess and monitor the potential hire’s behavior online. While this practice has been likened to employers demanding that potential hires allow the employer access to their home to search their belongings, there is currently no known law prohibiting this practice, despite the seemingly obvious violation of First and Fourth Amendment Rights.

However, since this revelation came to light, MSNBC has reported that Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have asked Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether the practice is in fact a violation of Federal Law. As of this writing, the outcome of this investigation has not been determined, though Facebook has stated that it does not permit sharing of passwords, and such demands by an employer of a potential hire violate Facebook’s user policy. As of now, the line between privacy and monitoring is still being drawn.

Drew Hendricks is a social media and SEO enthusiast that spends his free time browsing the internet and playing frisbee golf.

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