I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did: a Social Network Constitution and concerns around privacy

The groundwork of privacy, anonymity and free speech is being set now with evolving jurisprudence and legislation surrounding the concept of social networking.

That is the overarching theme, as I read it, in I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did:  Social Networks and the Death of Privacy, a new book from Lori Andrews, law professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Ahead of moderating a panel at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia featuring the author and two other esteemed panelists, I read an advanced copy of book.

Details of Thursday night’s event here.

It’s a book worth reading, dense with stories and examples of the gray line of privacy and the constitutionality of the social web. Below, I share some of my favorites bits.

  • The Internet is in need of a Social Network Constitution, a concept Andrews builds toward throughout the book, finally sharing a more detailed concept.
  • “Reasonable expectation of privacy” is the key phrase that turned a case in which Charles Katz was arrested for illegal betting when a public phone was tapped. Regardless of whether the event takes place in the house or not, personal details cannot be leveraged if there is a sensible reason for an individual to expect privacy and a court of law has not given authority to override that due to probable cause of illegal activity. [p. 52]
  • Online privacy and speech concerns have not be regularly upheld by courts as they have in the past analog world. Andrews argues that a lack of understanding of the fast-changing landscape has caused poor recognition of similarities between, say, the 1988 Bork Supreme Court justice nominee video rental list disclosure to social network attributes being used against individuals in hiring processes. [p. 57]
  • If we are simply early in these technologies, we still need to move quickly in establishing rights, because while it has been less than a decade since Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, social norms are changing rapidly. [p. 57]
  • “Facebook describes itself as a ‘social utility,'” which is important to convey the frustration with the defense of eroding privacy being that those who don’t like it can go elsewhere. [p. 58]
  • Internet Service Providers have the only real internet kill switch, and because Egypt has only five and Libya has only one, it is easier to control the internet in those countries. For comparison, there are as many as 4,000 in the United States, though the top five account for half of the U.S. market. American legislation has sought to create a mechanism to turn off internet access in an act of national security. [p. 63]
  • Right to anonymity and Freedom of Speech at the heart of these issues, like the dark story of William Francis Melchert-Dinkel who, posing as a female online, allegedly encouraged a Canadian girl to kill herself, which she did. [p. 93]
  • Are social networks publishers or communities?, which is important because they are being treated as the latter, in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which suggests in serving as a pass-through of information, the content cannot be blamed on the site. Examples like wide-ranging message board AutoAdmit, which was co-founded by a Penn law student, have faced legal action because of a lack of moderation. [p. 105]
  • Passive publishers rights, like craigslist, earn a right of protection only by setting up reasonable efforts to reduce liability, so Roommates.com was liable for discrimination because by having a drop-down option for users to choose ‘No Minorities’ in roommate choice, it was encouraging illegal, discriminatory behavior. [p. 108]
  • Lower Merion webcam controversy showed lack of legislation protecting technology-driven privacy, supplemented by the 2010 case of a Rutgers student who used video conferencing software to spy on his gay roommate. [p. 116]
  • ‘You have zero privacy anyway, get over it,” said Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, a sentiment Andrews questions with the above mentioned examples. [p. 117]
  • Context may matter a lot in the placement of public information but perhaps not in court, which is made clear when personal information from a 17-year-old’s MySpace page were placed as a sexually-suggestive post on craigslist. However the 40-year-old woman charged with doing that act was found not-guilty in 2011 for cyber-harassment because the information was already publicly available. [p. 118]
  • 81 percent of divorce attorneys have used an increase in evidence from social networks, including 66 percent using Facebook. [p. 138]
  • An unsettling lack of due process is used in sharing changes in privacy from social networks, including a host of examples from changes in Facebook and efforts by Google+ to sell on privacy. [p. 175]