Letters to the Editor

Fast Focus: Age of electronics

The key concept to address privacy in the electronic age is "scope of privacy."

We must legally empower people to control the scope of the release of their information.

It is inevitable that private information will be widely available to various authorities or hackers in electronic formats.

What is not inevitable is that the scope of the release of the material be unlimited.

For example:

If auditors get a court order to review your computer, and find highly personal files, it was probably "inevitable" that those auditors would invade your privacy within the scope of their work.

But there must be the most severe penalties if they further distribute your private materials.

If Homeland Security taps your phones or emails and learns very private details, then it is within the scope of their duties, but if one of their workers disseminates your private materials, harsh criminal and civil sanctions should be invoked.

Additionally, individuals should have the right to "scope" the use of their private information on the internet or in any media of distribution.

If someone takes a private photo or video (for example the recent video of the female sportscaster illegally taken in her hotel), all media which distribute it should be liable for their invasion of privacy if they did not first know there was permission to distribute the images.

In other words, just because "someone" saw the private materials it does not mean that now "everyone" can. This is the concept of scoping the distribution of your private materials.

If a young lady, or an Anthony Weiner, sends an intimate photo, we should not say "What did she expect?" when it ended up on the Internet.

What anyone "should expect" is that only the intended recipient will view the image.

Unless there was a crime or other reason to show the image to authorities, no one else should see the image without permission.

As a solution to the modern digital forms of information, we need to use the legal system to give people power over their private materials, and to build strong penalties that protect that right to privacy far from the original miscreant who put that private information into a public sphere.

Protecting our privacy also will require that we exercise the self-discipline to refuse to view invasive images, or to read invasive emails, that do not have a clear public interest (in actual governance, not the private lives of the public figures). And we need to consider penalties against that misbehavior as well.

The era of the stray photo in grandpa's shoebox, found after his death, might have been an era in which we could say, "Okay, he was careless, and now it is 'out there.' "

In today's era in which every electronic nook and cranny we own is "snooped" by the government and by spyware, we cannot say, "Someone saw it, so it might as well be everyone." Instead, we must craft a system which gives individuals tight control over the scope of the distribution of their private materials.

-- Craig Mason, Kennewick