Why should we care if agencies collect our musings, videos, and pictures that we have willingly shared with online “friends,” both real and imaginary ones?
Here are some practical concerns: the personal information on MySpace pages could be collected and joined with other data gathered from private data mining companies, public sector databases, etc. (Oftentimes, data about us collected by third parties is often faulty). All together, the information could suggest (albeit falsely) that we constitute a threat to society. Law enforcement could be informed and our names could be put on watch lists. This is not a hypothetical problem, see here. If federal agencies collected and maintained that data in their systems, it would be covered by the Privacy Act of 1974. Nonetheless, you would still appear on a watch list or assigned another ignominious fate by an automated government system.
As a normative matter, the absence of privacy vis-a-vis government on online social networking sites is unappealing. It would likely have an impact on our willingness to friend government agencies. We would be less likely to join online conversations that the Open Government directive hopes to generate. Or if we friend a government agency because we want to peer inside its operations, we may edit what we include on our profiles. As Julie Cohen has elegantly developed in her work, the lack of privacy would chill our creativity and desire to experiment with different aspects of our personalities. And Patricia Sanchez Abril has a superb piece entitled “A (My)Space of One’s Own: On Privacy and Online Social Networks” that discusses the social implications of a “no privacy” presumption in information we share with our friends on social networking sites. Justice Douglas’s remark that “monitoring, if prevalent, certainly kills free discourse and spontaneous utterances” should not be lost to us here.
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