Is Privacy a Thing? Above the Law Answered Yes

Above the Law’s Converge Conference this past March provided a forum for attorneys, social media gurus, C-suiters, and concerned citizens to take part in the ongoing discussions and arguments surrounding privacy, social media, and online activities. I was fortunate enough to speak on the first panel of Converge, entitled “Online Reputation, Privacy and the Law.” The spirited conversation continued afterwards during a Legal Talk Special Reports Podcast, where my fellow co-panelists and I were directly asked by host Bob Ambrogi whether “privacy is a thing.” I do believe that the Converge Conference—and its presenters, panelists, moderators, and avid audience members—answered affirmatively.

Privacy is a thing that many of us are fighting for, and social media has illustratively proven how privacy advocates are engineering tools and ways to protect privacy. As one of the most important backdrops for the privacy conversation, social media platforms have become a battleground for privacy. Apps like Snapchat and Cyberdust offer users the opportunity to protect their information in this digital age. These apps create communities for texters and media messengers to engage in (at their best functionality levels) discreet, disappearing conversations. There is obviously a consumer demand for privacy as related to online presence and Internet connectedness. At the same time, the ever-changing and usually confusing Facebook privacy controls, and various private website lengthy privacy policies, may suggest that privacy is something we strain to grasp. With such a dichotomy, we all must remain increasingly cautious in choosing to share personal information online—on any forum, be it a personal bank account page, an Amazon wishlist, or Instagram. Still, advocates are recognizing that social media and online privacy protections can be engineered and can exist. Moving forward—into a future of the Internet of Things—realistic, efficient, functional, and useful privacy protections must be built into our connected devices and social media outlets in order to be meaningful.

But what happens when we look to the past? During the Online Reputation panel, conversation became heated when the Google “Right to Be Forgotten” case came up for discussion. The debate between the American First Amendment, transparency, freedom of expression, and privacy protections is an interesting one, and the attorneys and journalists had very different views. However, the Google Right to Be Forgotten dilemma provides a unique stage on which we may witness the digital privacy evolution take place. Does the ability to delete Google links to web pages containing personally damaging and unwanted information rewrite history? Should we be able to control our online presence? Can we choose to scrub and censor our pasts, as depicted on the Internet?

Disappearing message apps allow us to erase our real-time conversations, but there is no delete button for our Internet presence. Yet the Right to Be Forgotten is certainly not a cure-all. The delinking mechanism only delinks to local Google results (i.e., USA’s will still have all links available). Certain sites are archiving disappeared links. The delinking request process is reviewed and enforced by Google. Is it a step in a positive direction? Potentially, but the concept directly conflicts with the American First Amendment mentality and is not efficient. And as cybersecurity attorney, I have a problem with the Right to Be Forgotten requests being analyzed by the search engine giant, and not a more (potentially) judicious, separate third party.

As discussed during Converge, we are now living in a post-Edward Snowden NSA age. John Oliver’s recent (and fantastic) interview with Snowden enforced the necessity to continue the privacy problem conversation in the most well-informed and intelligent manner possible. When posed the question, in so many words, whether Americans should stop sharing information online due to privacy and surveillance concerns, Snowden responded vehemently that, “If we sacrifice our values because we’re afraid, we don’t care very much about those values.” The Above the Law Converge Conference provided a glimpse into a variety of professionals’ viewpoints on the significant privacy problems, and highlighted why privacy is indeed a thing that we value.

I know that I, alongside all of my fellow Converge participants, shall continue the privacy conversation diligently as the digital age marches onward and upward.

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