Get Smart About Privacy College symposium revealed some dark truths about technology and our online privacy By Ryan Blackburn
n the 21st century, privacy seems like a thing of the past. Our lives have become more public than they were only 10 years ago, as we often post personal facts on social media without hesitation. Many of our online activities are tracked and recorded, however, which some believe is an invasion of our privacy. In the digital
age, we must stand strong against these online offenses.
This sensitive issue was the focus at Gaylord College. Feb. 25 through 26, during a symposium titled “The Future of Privacy in a Socially Networked World: Can one of the most essential values of democratic societies long endure?” The event was the first of many celebrating 100 years of excellence in journalism education at OU. With three expert panelists, the present and future of our privacy online was discussed at great detail. The conversations were led by Ashley Packard, Chris Soghoian and Evgeny Morozov and moderated by OU College of Law Professor Stephen Henderson. Inclement weather delayed the start of the event, preventing Morozov from traveling. He did, however, join the other panelists via Skype. Morozov is a contributing editor at The New Republic as well as a published author in The New York Times, The Economist and The Wall Street Journal. He has published such literary works such as The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, as well as To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism. He also is an expert in online communications and online information. Packard is a professor of communication and digital media studies at the University of Houston at Clear Lake. She holds a doctoralte in journalism and a master’s degree in communication, and is an expert in media law and media ethics. She has been published in many periodicals, including The Journal of International Media and Entertainment Law, Communication Law and Policies and The University of Georgia Journal of Intellectual Property and Law Law/Technology. Soghoian is a self-described “privacy researcher and activist, working at the intersection of technology, law and policy.” He is a senior policy analyst and a principal technologist in the speech, privacy and technology department at the American Civil Liberties Union. He has published many works, such as The Spies We Trust: Third Party Service Providers and Law Enforcement Surveillance, which deals with information gathered through search engines and third-party websites and how it can be used by law enforcement. Soghoian is an advocate for consumer rights as they relate to the digital world. The first discussions between Packard and Soghoian revolved around the Freedom of Information Act, and how Soghoian 26
uses it in his work for the ACLU. He says consumers have the right to certain information that corporations don’t want us to know, such as how they track us or how they will use that data. He uses the Act to obtain that information and expose corporate violations of privacy. “How do we learn more about what’s happening?” he asked. “How do we learn how much the government is monitoring our online activities? The police don’t actually do that much surveillance anymore. Companies like Cox, Facebook, Google and Twitter are all illegally required by law to provide surveillance assistance to the government.” Soghoian stressed that we must understand the overall services provided by Internet sites. “I think deep down we all know Facebook isn’t really our friend,” he said. “We know they’re collecting information about us and that it’s facilitating advertising. What isn’t understood is that the government gets to come along for the ride, too.” While some may feel that these invasions of privacy are of little importance, our expert panelists disagreed. “I reject the idea that people are comfortable with what’s happening,” Soghoian said. “You have no options. There’s no way to browse the Web without these companies collecting this data.” What really happens to this information? That is the question that Packard wants answered. “I think the issue is not just that our information is being collected, but that we don’t know how much, exactly what’s being collected or where it’s going,” she said. “Maybe it seems fine that it’s collected on a particular site, but what happens to that information after it’s sold?” According to Soghoian, the police are using online data in surveillance practices more today than ever before. “U.S. phone companies now get around 1.5 million requests a year for surveillance data,” he said. “The reason it has grown to such a staggering amount is that people don’t know it’s happening. All phone companies have teams of people who do nothing else but respond to requests by the police.” Professor Henderson moderated Friday’s afternoon session and spoke about Third Party Doctrine. He said the doctrine has been poorly theorized in the past, so it is hard to know >>Continued on page 61