Google Could Be Forced to Delete Links and Sensitive information

On May 13, the European Union’s highest court struck what appeared to be a significant blow for privacy, ruling that Google could be forced to delete links and other sensitive information about a user upon his or her request. In an age of rampant identity theft and data breaches, as well as more sinister, personal examples of private data going public such as revenge porn, this was a win worth celebrating. And it has many questioning if such a law could ever pass in the United States.

The short answer: No. “The publication of truthful fact, in a public forum, is robustly protected by the first amendment,” says Lee Rowland, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. From a strictly legal perspective, the EU’s “right to be forgotten” decision would be a clear violation of the constitutional right to free speech. “The first amendment protects speech that is a matter of public concern. It’s not only the right to speak about it but also to hear about it,” Rowland explains.

Consider, for example, the details of the case that triggered the EU’s unappealable decision.

A Spanish attorney failed to pay his taxes and had to sell off property in a public auction. A newspaper ran the details of said auction, as newspapers do. That information made its standard way to the Internet, and Google did what Google does, supplying linked search results to it.

There was nothing illegal about the newspaper’s publication of the auction results. And as personally embarrassing as those details may have been to the attorney, Rowland believes the public has a right to know that a practicing lawyer is a confirmed tax cheat. “Imagine if there were a plastic surgeon with a legal history of doing terrible things to people’s faces,” Rowland says. “Wouldn’t you as a consumer want to be able to find evidence of those lawsuits?”

Then again, most of the people championing the EU decision aren’t disgraced lawyers hoping to scrub their own sins from the Internet. The positive response has to do with shifting the balance of power online and issuing takedown orders to companies—like Google—that collect and disseminate our private information without permission. Blunt and unconstitutional as it might be, an equivalent U.S. ruling or law could also cripple revenge porn sites, forcing them to remove nude photos and images at an individual’s request, without discussion or delay.

It’s a solution that even dedicated anti-revenge porn groups don’t want. “It’s about the expectation of privacy,” says Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and board member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI).

The EU ruling punishes Google for indexing publicly available information, which could be of enormous value to the Spanish attorney’s current or prospective clients. That attorney has not only relinquished his expectation of privacy, but there’s good reason (arguably) for the public to have access to what the newspaper lawfully published. And while the EU has no equivalent of the first amendment, U.S. law almost always tilts in favor of free speech as a founding bulwark against entrenched, institutional corruption.

In the case of revenge porn, however, “there’s no free speech interest in publishing nude photos,” Citron says. “If someone shares nude images or permits them to be taken, when those are released, the wrong is the intentional violation of that confidentiality, not the search engine’s reproduction of it.”

The real solution, according to Citron, is to enforce laws that are already in place—in many revenge porn cases, photos are actually obtained through hacking the victim’s phone or computer—as well to pass extremely narrow legislation that specifically targets individual privacy breaches while also giving the first amendment a wide berth. The CCRI helped draft an anti-revenge porn bill in Maryland (which was unanimously approved by the Maryland’s House of Delegates this past March and is currently with the state’s senate) that more clearly defines the illegal activity and corresponding penalties. “That law would punish a very narrow set of privacy violations that have a profound impact on victims lives,” Citron says.

RELATED: Revenge Porn King Hunter Moore Finally Arrested

Yet she also believes that the new law falls short by not including a provision that would allow for the takedown of a victim’s photos and videos beyond the offender’s site. So even if those files vanish in one place, they could live on throughout the Internet.

Unrelated to revenge porn, Citron would also support regulations or legislation that allow users to demand that data brokers—the companies that track our activity online and resell that data to advertisers and other third parties—delete that collected information, on the grounds that it’s not public or of public interest.

If those sound suspiciously like requests for some version of the EU ruling—with its expansive demands for link deletion—welcome to the complex, circuitous world of digital privacy. But the key issue is, once again, the expectation of privacy. Nude photos and online spending habits are private. Proof that a lawyer was found guilty of breaking the law is not. Unlike the right to free speech, which is relatively easy to define and quite literally the first concern of the U.S. Constitution, the right to privacy is a necessarily complicated concept defined by context and exceptions. And while the two rights can come into direct conflict, freedom of speech tends to bolster privacy, allowing news outlets to cover the NSA’s more nefarious spying activities, for example.

Neither the CCRI nor the ACLU are claiming that stateside privacy laws are perfect. Citron is pushing for an update to the federal cyberstalking law that would demand a takedown of specific victim-related data if the offender is found guilty (a topic addressed at length in her book, Hate 3.0: A Civil Rights Agenda to Combat Discriminatory Online Harassment, due out this August). And Rowland is concerned about privacy violations that lead back to the government, including the public release of mugshots, even for individuals who were booked but never convicted.… Read the rest

New California ‘revenge porn’ law may miss some victims – CNN

revenge porn

(CNN) — For many victims, California’s new “revenge porn” law doesn’t go far enough.

Revenge porn, also called cyber revenge, is the act of posting sexual photos of an ex-lover online for vengeance. The photos were typically exchanged consensually over the course of a relationship and meant only for the other person.

There are websites dedicated to posting and making money off of these types of shots, which are primarily of women.

The new California law, which was signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown, is only the second revenge porn-specific piece of legislation in the United States. Under the law, people convicted of distributing sexual images of exes face six months of jail time and a $1,000 fine.

Critics say the law has some glaring loopholes. It only applies when the person accused of spreading the images online is also the photographer. It does not cover photos a person takes of themselves and shares with a lover, say during a sexting session.

Up to 80% of revenge porn victims had taken the photos of themselves, according to a recent survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. CCRI is a group founded by revenge porn victims and activists to push for legal reform in the United States. That means the vast majority of revenge porn cases would not qualify under this law.

“I definitely don’t think this bill goes far enough, though it is a step in the right direction,” said CCRI’s Holly Jacobs, who became a prominent anti-revenge porn activist after she was a victim herself. In Jacobs’ case, most of her photos posted online were self-shots but some were taken by her ex.

“We would only have been able to follow through with the charges if we linked his IP address to the pictures that he took of me, not those that I took of myself,” said Jacobs.

Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at Miami Law School who is on the board at CCRI, said one of the possible reasons the law did not include self-shots is that the distinction was required so people who sent unsolicited nude photos of themselves were not covered. However, the law does specifically state that photos be taken “under circumstances where the parties agree or understand that the image shall remain private.”

“I think we are really looking at a ‘blame the victim’ mentality here,” said Franks, meaning people who take the photos of themselves were “asking for it.”

“It’s disturbing that the drafters apparently think that some victims of nonconsensual pornography are not worth protecting,” said Franks.

Another issue is that there could be difficulty enforcing the law even in cases that do qualify. The law applies to people who post photos to “harass or annoy” and the perpetrators must have “intent to cause serious emotional distress.” That could exclude people who post these types of images only for financial gain or other reasons like bragging rights. The sites that make money off of submitted revenge porn might be able to avoid prosecution by claiming they did not know the victims and therefore couldn’t have intended any harm.

“Until now, there was no tool for law enforcement to protect victims,” California state Sen. Anthony Cannella said in a statement. Cannella was one of the main authors of the new law. “Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another that they trusted.”

Cannella’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding criticisms of the law.

Previously, victims of revenge porn had limited recourse when photos taken with consent were posted online. A person could sue the ex who uploaded the images or the site hosting them for invasion of privacy, but it didn’t constitute harassment under California state laws. Victims would have had to pay for a costly civil suit.

California is only the second state to have a law that addresses revenge porn. New Jersey has had a related law since 2003 that makes it a felony to post secretly recorded videos or photos online.

Now other states are considering their own revenge porn laws, including New York and Wisconsin. Franks has been working with both states on early drafts of their laws, and she says that so far it looks like both avoid what she considers the weaknesses of the California law and include First Amendment protections.

Activists would also like to see a federal law address revenge porn.

Early on, the ACLU voiced concerns about the California law’s potentially negative impact on free speech, for example, if someone wanted to share a photo that had political implications or if a photo or video contained evidence of a crime.

Florida was considering a revenge porn law but scrapped it following First Amendment concerns.

The California bill contains an urgency clause, meaning it will go into effect immediately. The first few cases will show how effective the new legislation is in curbing revenge porn. Since it’s nearly impossible to scrub an image from the Internet once it has gone viral, the best possible outcome is that the law discourages people from seeking this type of revenge in the first place.

New California ‘revenge porn’ law may miss some victims – CNN
revenge porn – Google News… Read the rest