December 10, 2016

Mind Over Media: Privacy, reconsidering our constitutional rights

If you’re reading this column online at the Webster Journal website, be forewarned — someone could be watching your every click. Your Google searches, the emails you send, your tweets, Facebook statuses and other online activities do not belong to you alone. At the right price, this information can be sold to businesses, and they can be accessed by the government or used in other ways that do not involve your consent. As everyday life becomes more digitalized, an important question must be asked: Should privacy become a constitutional right?

A technology lawyer recently stated in the New York Law Journal that one should stop thinking of their emails as confidential, and more as postcards or conversations over a loudspeaker. According to thinkpress.org, after 180 days, the police no longer need a warrant to look at an email. So let’s say I email my lawyer. If I sent the same message via first-class mail, it would be more protected, as post mail requires a warrant.. The courts have clearly not caught up to our digital times.

Most college students are probably familiar with warnings from teachers about filtering what you post on Facebook, as it could come back to haunt you when looking for a job. According to a New York Times article from 2011, 75 percent of recruiters are required by their companies to do online research of candidates. Seventy percent of recruiters in the United States report that they have rejected candidates because of information online.

These statistics are concerning because such freedom gives employers loopholes regarding what can be asked when interviewing potential employees. It is currently illegal to ask a potential hire about his or her religious beliefs, disabilities, race, age or marital status, but all of this can be obtained quite easily through a Facebook search.

For example, if a family member of mine were to tag me in a post (a way of linking a post to someone else’s profile) about how they wish I would start thinking about having children, that could be enough for an employer to not hire me. They could assume I might be expensive to hire in terms of health insurance if I decided to have kids.

In an NPR interview, author Garret Keizer said, “I think to say that privacy is a lesser right because it’s not in the Constitution is like saying that a couple’s child either does not exist or is not their child because it wasn’t present at their wedding.” I agree with Keizer on this – I believe in order for true freedom to exist in our country, we must reassess our privacy laws. How can free speech exist online if potential employers and our government have such easy access to what we post?

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