The Right to Privacy–Part 2

By: Dennis Bates

To recap briefly. Yesterday I wrote about the right to privacy. The right has developed from interpretations of cases before the United States Supreme Court. There are some state laws as well. There are no express words in the Constitution that provide a right to privacy like there are for many other rights. The right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment is an example of express words that are found in the Constitution.

I won’t try to examine the different aspects of the right to privacy here. I have a simpler point to make. To some degree we as individuals determine any right to privacy we may or may not have. Whether something about us is private or public depends largely on how we  view it and whether that personal perspective is reasonable or not.

Let me give you an example. If we tell our best friend or our spouse some intimate secret in the privacy of our own home we share something private. We probably have a clear expectation in that case that our secret is safe and will remain just between the two of us. If we tell three, four or a dozen people that same information, the reasonableness of our expectation becomes less clear. After all, it is questionable that we intend to keep the information private if we are willing to share it with large numbers of people.

Our expectation of privacy would be equally questionable if we shared our secret with one or more people in a public place, such as a restaurant, where there is a good chance that people serving us or sitting around us will be able to hear what we are talking about. The expectation becomes even less reasonable if we pass the information along in what my mother used to call my outdoor voice so that people around me can’t help hearing what I am saying.

All of these factors are exacerbated by technology. Let’s just limit this discussion to technology that we have control over, like text messages and social networking on the Internet. For now we won’t discuss the eavesdropping devices depicted in so many movies and television shows.

If a person is going to put intimate details about themselves on social networking pages, or, worse , if a person is going to send risqué pictures of themselves via those networks or cell phones, it seems to me that any expectation of privacy is illusory at best. I am not a technically savvy person, but even I could retransmit emails or pictures to a large number of people in less than five minutes. People that know what they are doing can have a video complete with background music transmitted worldwide within that time.

Yet, every day we read stories about the most intimate details of people that have been posted  on the Internet. Frequently some of the subjects of those stories and videos complain that they never meant for those videos to be used for anything but private consumption by the person to whom they were sent. Forget for a minute about why that matters and why anyone, let alone a teenager, would make and transmit that kind of story and/or video. Let’s assume there is nothing wrong with that, even though it stretches even my sense of propriety.

Would you give that story or those embarrassing pictures of yourself to someone who could post them on the Internet in seconds for easy access by a few million of your newest admirers? That’s the risk you take, and in my opinion, there is no reasonable expectation of any right to privacy in situations like that.

Two rules: Don’t do it to begin with, but if you do, don’t validate it by sharing it. It isn’t private.

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