United States: Where Has All The Privacy Gone?

Last Updated: January 14 2015
Article by Eric J. Sinrod

When it comes to privacy, a lyric from a Joni Mitchell song seems apt: "You don't know what you've got till it's gone." Indeed, as technology has moved forward, it seems that practically every semblance of privacy has disappeared.

Let's recount just a few of the ways that privacy has gone by the wayside.

From the Workplace to Cyberspace

For starters, there is very little privacy in the workplace. Most employers have employees sign policies stating that the business equipment that employees use is company property and that employers can monitor communications using that equipment. Employees are told upfront that they do not have expectations of privacy when using company phones, computers, and other devices.

In addition, practically everyone is living their life, at least to some extent, on the Internet. As a consequence, all sorts of private information is shared in cyberspace. When making online purchases, for example, credit card and home address information is shared. When making such purchases, consumers agree to the terms of service of the providers. At times, those terms of service allow for the further sharing of information provided, and can also lead to targeted advertising.

Social media, of course, is now the rage. People expose so many aspects of daily life to "friends." But those "friends" can exchange that "private" information with others not within the intended friend group.

More and more, our communications are digital in nature. Rather than in-person words that vanish after being spoken, now our words are recorded for later potential retrieval, perhaps even long after the fact.

We All Now Live in Glass Houses

Even when we believe we are acting in a secure fashion, we keep hearing about major hacks and data breaches, with private information being compromised. Some of that information is very sensitive, such as medical and financial records.

And privacy can quickly disappear out in the real world. Drones are flying about and can take photos of people on the ground, in buildings, and in their homes in ways not imagined before. Homes are photographed from the street and are posted online. Cameras are stationed within all types of buildings, as well as outside to monitor what people are doing. And tracking technology can follow our physical whereabouts.

With privacy slipping through our fingers, perhaps the ultimate outcome is that we feel we must behave perfectly, so that our communications and conduct never come back to bite us.

On the other hand, we all are human, and we all are subject to the same changing landscape. So if information comes out about someone that previously would have been private and casts that person in less than a perfect light, then hopefully we can exercise some humanity and give him or her the benefit of the doubt. We all now live in glass houses.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is of counsel in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at ejsinrod@duanemorris.com with Subscribe in the Subject line.

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.

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