Jon L. Mills is Dean Emeritus, Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Listed as Florida Trend magazine’s “Legal Elite” he also served as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives for ten years. In his new book, Privacy: The Lost Right, he provides an overview of privacy in today’s intrusive world. The book explores the complex web of laws and policies that fail to provide privacy protection and identifies available protections. In the post below Mills argues that the general public would care much more about intrusions to their privacy if they had a better idea of how often it is subtly violated.
A recent article suggests modern Americans, unlike previous generations, don’t care about privacy intrusions. I disagree. It is not that we don’t care, we really don’t know how often our privacy is invaded.
Citizens’ expectations of privacy have not changed. What has changed is the oft-invisible, technology-driven depth and subtly of intrusion into personal privacy.
A study reported that 84 percent of Britons polled said they did not give personal income information over the Internet when, actually, 89 percent “willingly” did. The real questions are: Did they understand what information they were revealing? Did they expose their income information knowingly?
People are unaware of privacy intrusions in everyday life because intruders don’t put the public on notice, unless it’s in the fine print. Yet, when people feel the effects of privacy invasions, they do care, deeply.
Imagine the Los Angeles woman who began receiving harassing contacts and telephone calls after an anonymous person in Berlin posted suggestive and salacious information about her on a dating Web site.
Imagine the parents of six young college students murdered by serial killer Danny Rolling when media sought to publish photos of their children’s mutilated bodies. Imagine racecar icon Dale Earnhardt’s widow, Teresa, when his autopsy photos were about to be posted on the Internet. I know firsthand how these families suffered because I was the attorney representing them in blocking these hurtful intrusions.
Ask the person who has lost his job, his health insurance, or his freedom due to compromised privacy data.
Citizens become privacy advocates when painful privacy intrusions affect them or their families.
Privacy intrusions are possible everywhere – government sources, anonymous bloggers, data brokers and the media all have the motivation and the technology to invade our privacy. Using the Internet and technology is not a license to surrender our privacy.
Citizens need greater awareness of privacy invasions and protections. Lack of knowledge does not equal lack of caring.
There are some things we cannot change. If you are in an accident, the press will write about you and maybe your family. If government is opening your email because of your recipients names writing or the things you write, you can change friends and topics. But, if we do not want to withdraw from modern society, we can do some things for ourselves. Read the boring privacy statements from your credit card company. Know how they are using your information and claim as much privacy as you can. Minimize the amount of information you give out in purchases, surveys and questionnaires-particularly over the internet. Always assume information you disclose in today’s world will be available to your neighbor or next date. Finally, let policy makers know you care about privacy.