I attended the 2015 Law + Informatics Symposium on Digital Evidence at NKU’s Chase College of Law. Erin Corken, Esq. of Ricoh Legal spoke about the current state of privacy, and how our expectations of privacy have evolved in today’s digital world.
As a Millennial and someone who is an advocate of social media communication, I perked up.
“Privacy” As We (Think We) Know it Has Already Transformed
Privacy is something that humans universally crave. Just how much the idea of privacy has changed today is difficult to capture, since the concept of privacy differs greatly from person-to-person. Compare someone who has always lived in an urban area with a person who has always lived in a rural location.
You can guess that they may have different ideas of what privacy means.
“To quote my friend retired U.S. Magistrate Ron Hedges, who helped me arrive at the conclusion of the article I have just written on the changing expectation of privacy, the key insight about how the idea of privacy has evolved is that, ‘it depends,’” Corken explained to me in an interview after her presentation.
“It depends on who you ask and when you ask them.” It’s also safe to say that a Millennial will have a different idea about privacy than someone from the WWII Generation, and the person from the WWII Generation will have a different idea than someone from Generation X.
But despite our inherent differing viewpoints on privacy, privacy still matters.
For some people, they may say, “But I have nothing to hide!” While that may be true, I would encourage these people to think about their privacy a bit differently.
For example: would you be okay with giving up your passwords to all of your accounts? Or would you be okay with never having the ability to have a private conversation or having any bathroom doors from this point forward? Or would it matter to you if anyone could access your entire health history?
The point is that there is value in having the ability to have privacy.
Millennials May See Privacy Differently—But They Are the Ones Shaping the Future of Privacy Preservation
“Being a Generation Xer, not a Millennial, I can only speak second hand about how they view privacy,” Corken said to me. “But, the studies that I have seen suggest that [Millenialls] care about controlling their data.”
Studies suggest that Millennials are—as you may have guessed—more open with sharing information through social media, but they are also more controlling about with whom they are sharing.
“These new sites are gaining some popularity because mom, dad, and grandpa aren’t on them since they haven’t figured out that they exist yet. Some studies also suggest that they don’t want their employers to have access to personal information that they have shared online.”
We may see someone over-post on social media and think, “That’s just not for me,” but remember that Millennials are the ones who will be shaping the legislation and “norms” around privacy in the future. That’s part of why conversations and education around key issues concerning our privacy are so important.
Being Informed About Our Privacy
What should we be thinking about, now and in the future, as we use more digital tools that may compromise our privacy? That question has no easy answer.
“Today many people have seemingly given away their rights to keep their information private by signing (digitally or physically) adhesion contracts with boiler plate language that is likely never read,” Corken pointed out.
It’s true: many of us, myself included, have clicked “agree” to statements on websites or platforms we use without giving much notice to what kind of rights we are signing away.
“Many of these [agreements] include language that essentially gives away some of their rights to keep their data private and/or to maintain control of their data.”
Additionally, many times a person is put in a situation where it is “take it or leave it” when it comes to the policy they are being asked to agree with. For example, if it’s a policy from an employer, it may be difficult to decline.
“Is That Right?”
“I think the most important question is going to be, ‘is that right?’” argued Corken. She pointed out that theoretically, if there was ever a dispute, under the law of contracts the company or the software provider would be in a very strong position with a signed agreement. “We have seen this happening for the past several years with arbitration clauses. Now we are seeing something similar with data privacy rights.”
The question we can begin to ask ourselves as individuals is how are we really treating ourselves? Do we seem some of these acts as infringing on our freedom?
Yes, the companies (employers many times) can argue they are just protecting themselves and trying to be compliant. But said another way, is this really fair and right? I left the Law + Informatics Symposium having learned we have to ask ourselves, and better answer this question as we proceed in this uncharted digital territory.
You can reach Erin Corken, Esq. at Erin.Corken (at) ricoh-usa.com
Kim Sykes is a marketer and content creator at Edoc Service, Inc., a total virtual company