For trial attorneys, a key component to winning is carefully selecting people for the jury and tailoring arguments to best influence, nudge, or perhaps even manipulate jurors into reaching a particular verdict. As a result, there is a hunger to learn about the private lives of jurors, and serving on a jury can entail a huge loss of privacy.
Why does privacy matter? Often courts and commentators struggle to articulate why privacy is valuable. They see privacy violations as often slight annoyances. But privacy matters a lot more than that. Here are 10 reasons why privacy matters.
1. Limit on Power
Privacy is a limit on government power, as well as the power of private sector companies. The more someone knows about us, the more power they can have over us. Personal data is used to make very important decisions in our lives. Personal data can be used to affect our reputations; and it can be used to influence our decisions and shape our behavior. It can be used as a tool to exercise control over us. And in the wrong hands, personal data can be used to cause us great harm.
In 2012, the media erupted with news about employers demanding employees provide them with their social media passwords so the employers could access their accounts. This news took many people by surprise, and it set off a firestorm of public outrage. It even sparked a significant legislative response in the states.
I thought that the practice of demanding passwords was so outrageous that it couldn’t be very common. What kind of company or organization would actually do this? I thought it was a fringe practice done by a few small companies without much awareness of privacy law.
The frequent use of social media by employees has created a new domain of risk for employers – employees who reveal confidential or sensitive information or who otherwise say things that damage their institution’s reputation or create strife with their colleagues.
For example, in the healthcare context, in a number of widely-publicized incidents, employees revealed confidential information about patients on their blogs and social network profiles. For example, according to a Boston Globe story, an emergency room physician posted data online about the patient. The physician thought that it was safe to post about as long as she did not include the patient’s name. But others could identify the patient. There are numerous recent cases where hospital staff have posted photos and other information about patients online.
A common argument I hear is that young people just don’t care about privacy. If they cared about privacy, why would they share so much personal data on Facebook? Why would they text so much? Why would they be so cavalier about their privacy? Privacy will be dead in a generation, the argument goes.
This argument is wrong for several reasons. Studies show that young people do care about privacy. A few years ago, a study by Chris Hoofnagle and others revealed that young people’s attitudes about privacy didn’t differ much from older people’s attitudes. A more recent study sponsored by Microsoft found that “[p]rivacy and security rank as college students’ #1 concern about online activity.”
But what accounts for the behavior of sharing so much personal data online? First, young people—especially teenagers—might not be thinking through the consequences of their actions. It doesn’t mean they will never care about privacy; they might care about privacy at a point in the future.