What do Pennsylvania high school student Blake Robbins, Mississippi middle school student Richard Wade, Maryland Division of Corrections Officer Robert Collins, and Kim Kardashian-West all have in common?
I suspect most people would guess nothing, but that would be wrong. It turns out they have a common affliction that impacts nearly everyone living in the digital age. Yes, that’s right, you probably have it too. Let’s take a look.
Blake Robbins wanted to use his school-issued laptop for schoolwork and to communicate with his friends, such as by email and video chat. He did not, however, want his school remotely turning on the laptop’s webcam and taking hundreds of pictures of him, including when he was partially undressed or sleeping. But that happened.
If Congress is unwilling or unable to act to protect Americans’ privacy, or takes actions that are insufficient, the states are more than willing to step up and fill the void.
Richard Wade was a fun-loving 12-year-old boy, who liked to use his cell phone to take and share pictures with his friends. He did not, however, want his school to seize and search his phone after he got a text message from his father during “football class.” The initial intrusion snowballed into his expulsion after administrators determined that one picture on it, which showed him and a friend dancing in a bathroom while his friend held a BB gun, was “gang-related.”
Robert Collins is a veteran corrections officer who uses social media to share personal photos and thoughts with his friends and family. He did not, however, want to allow his employer to view the personal information on his social media account, but such a demand was placed upon him during his job recertification process.
Kim Kardashian-West is one of the world’s most recognizable celebrities. She has used a hit reality television show and social media to enhance her celebrity by sharing nearly every aspect of her life with the general public. She does not, however, want her young children to receive the same level of exposure or to have unauthorized people view her private hospital records.
So what is the common thread? To varying degrees, all of these people, like nearly all of us, have chosen to share certain personal thoughts and information about themselves with a select group of other people. At the same time, they all want control over what personal information is shared and with whom. Unfortunately, none of them are empowered to make those choices and to enforce the limits they choose. The bottom line is that the laws that are supposed to protect the privacy of students, employees, and our personal data and communications are not up to the task.
Fortunately, today, all across the county, from Hawaii to Alabama to New Hampshire, a diverse, bipartisan coalition of state legislators will simultaneously announce state legislative proposals that, although varied, are all aimed at empowering their constituents to #TakeCTRL of their personal privacy. These bills would go far in ensuring students, employees, and everyone else has more of a say over who can know their whereabouts, track their activities online, and view information they share with friends.
There may be a prevailing sentiment in this country that we are so politically divided that we cannot work together even on issues of great importance to the American public. But that narrative does not hold up when it comes to privacy.
Through these collective actions, these elected officials are making an important point: If Congress is unwilling or unable to act to protect Americans’ privacy, or takes actions that are insufficient, the states are more than willing to step up and fill the void.
There may be a prevailing sentiment in this country that we are so politically divided that we cannot work together even on issues of great importance to the American public. But that narrative does not hold up when it comes to privacy. In fact, a recent poll found that 90 percent of Americans want the next president of the United States to prioritize “protecting privacy so [Americans] have more control over our personal information.”
We don’t know if the next president will prioritize defending privacy to the degree it deserves as a core American value, but we know that the states will, and they are making a significant showing of it today.
So on behalf of Blake, Richard, Robert, Kim, and the over 97 million residents of the 16 states announcing important privacy legislation today — we say thank you.
Chad Marlow is Advocacy and Policy Counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, where his focus is on privacy and technology. Marlow holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law and a B.A. in Government from Connecticut College. In 2007, City & State named him to its “Rising Stars: 40 Under 40” list.
A version of this story originally appeared on ACLU.org and has been reprinted with permission.
Image via Christiaan Colen / Flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman