Privacy Laws

The shifting boundaries of online privacy

online privacy lawsWith all eyes on the release of Clinton’s personal email there are renewed questions about the viability of protecting privacy online. Businesses and schools are both struggling with how much monitoring and accountability they can enforce when it comes to online behavior. If you are developing policies for either there are many different factors to consider. If you are considering a case where the defendant is accused of defamation or libel via online activity, then consulting a criminal lawyer and learning more about how the boundaries of online privacy are shifting is essential.

 

What happens in the EU isn’t likely to stay there

It is no secret that the privacy laws in the European Union are far stricter than what is in place in the USA. As giants like Google and Facebook are struggling in their courts to defend their practices there are new privacy initiatives taking shape across the Atlantic. This could be the precursor for changes that can come here. When developing policies for online activity and accountability you have to keep in mind the potential changes to the legislative climate towards online policy that could arise over the next decade. What some companies and academic facilities are trying to do is modify the confidentiality and non-competitive clauses to cover online behavior. This has led to a rise of lawsuits for wrongful termination that are facing years of court hearings before any hope of resolution.

 

The compromise many institutions are defaulting towards

According to Frank Fernandez, a criminal defense attorney Boston, many institutions are beginning to demand that employees and contractors sign off on a confidentiality agreement that bans them from any online work related mentions even on networks with high privacy settings. The argument in favor for this is two-fold. Facebook is the textbook example of how online networks can change privacy policies and procedures that effectively reset privacy settings to public settings unless the user deliberately takes action to opt out. This has led to some people being terminated when what they posted for “friends only” was suddenly made available for public viewing. The confidentiality ban on mention is seen as a blanket solution. The other argument in favor of it is that it prevents and discourages personal network access from institutional devices.

 

When what is private is made public

The other issue that many people are facing is when a message concerning a person or facility is posted privately and then the person or facility is made aware of it via a screenshot taken from someone on the poster’s allowed list. When that screenshot is then show to the person or facility in question it raises questions of entrapment, breach of trust and potential violation of the confidentiality ban on mention the poster has with the company.

Public consensus on posting right is not consistent

Depending on what is the current story in the news the public consensus on the extent of privacy guarantees online will vary. If there has been a recent school shooting and the shooter had a history of posting diatribes and threats online there is more a call for flexible privacy boundaries for safety. If the issue is someone being fired for commenting privately about company behavior or policy, the call is for privacy to be protected more stringently. Looking for a precedent may not be the best resource for developing an approach. If you are dealing with the creation of policy or terms and conditions you have to realize that there will be social and cultural limits on what will stand up in court. The accountability for online posting and the rules for maintaining privacy online are speeding towards a crash. How business needs for confidentiality and personal needs for privacy will be resolved is anyone’s guess, however the judgments in the EU appear to all be pointed towards more restrictions on both as a potential solution.