Why We Should Care About Privacy in a Government 2.0 World

1151047_women_color_4Yesterday, I wrote about the public’s expectations regarding privacy when interacting with government on social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Flickr among others.  Why should we care if agencies collect our musings, videos, and pictures that we have willingly shared with online “friends,” both real and imaginary ones?

Here are some practical concerns: the personal information on MySpace pages could be collected and joined with other data gathered from private data mining companies, public sector databases, etc.  (Oftentimes, data about us collected by third parties is often faulty).  All together, the information could suggest (albeit falsely) that we constitute a threat to society.  Law enforcement could be informed and our names could be put on watch lists.  This is not a hypothetical problem, see here.  If federal agencies collected and maintained that data in their systems, it would be covered by the Privacy Act of 1974.  Nonetheless, you would still appear on a watch list or assigned another ignominious fate by an automated government system.

As a normative matter, the absence of privacy vis-a-vis government on online social networking sites is unappealing.  It would likely have an impact on our willingness to friend government agencies.  We would be less likely to join online conversations that the Open Government directive hopes to generate.  Or if we friend a government agency because we want to peer inside its operations, we may edit what we include on our profiles.  As Julie Cohen has elegantly developed in her work, the lack of privacy would chill our creativity and desire to experiment with different aspects of our personalities.  And Patricia Sanchez Abril has a superb piece entitled “A (My)Space of One’s Own: On Privacy and Online Social Networks” that discusses the social implications of a “no privacy” presumption in information we share with our friends on social networking sites.  Justice Douglas’s remark that “monitoring, if prevalent, certainly kills free discourse and spontaneous utterances” should not be lost to us here.

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2 Responses

  1. Jake says:

    What a silly discourse. If you put stuff on the Internet, expect people to read it. Most folks who put stuff on the Internet probably expect this.

    If you worry about being monitored by the State, don’t put stuff on the Internet. Please, Ms. Citron, your points are well argued but, in the final analysis, a complaint about a self-inflicted wound.

  2. Jacqui Lipton says:

    While I agree that people should take a certain (actually a significant) amount of responsibility for things they post online, I do think there’s a contextualization problem with stuff posted on political websites in one context that may then be used in another context later on when circumstances dramatically change. For example, people may have friended Obama as a candidate, caught up in the moment of an exciting political campaign, and without giving much thought to what might happen to their information if Obama won the presidency – or assuming their information would be deleted or archived in this eventuality. I’m not aware that any particular representations were made by the Obama campaign about how supporters’ information might be used later on. This is not specific to any particular campaign, but if you supported, say, John Edwards’ ill-fated campaign, chances are your information is pretty well harmlessly archived away by now, while Obama relates to his campaign followers in a completely different context as the President now.