For the very first time, AZ Attorney has a guest blogger. She is Fiona Causer, currently (as she describes herself) “a student pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies … [who] enjoys writing and seeks to use it as a vehicle to convey ideas and engage others in discussing relevant issues of our day.” She writes here about social media and privacy issues. The opinions in the post are solely those of Ms. Causer. You can reach her directly at email@example.com.
Are you interested in writing or collaborating on a guest post? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Fiona for her thoughtful piece:
Paralegal Perspective: Is Social Media a Means of Voluntary Expression or Unwanted Exposure?
Guest Post by Fiona Causer
In an era where near-constant surveillance of American citizens is a possibility, do online social media outlets really allow for free speech? In other words, if you know that people are monitoring what you say, can your speech really be considered free? For example, we’ve all held our tongue on Twitter, since we know that all of our followers will hear what we have to say and we don’t want to offend anyone. For folks in the United States, despite having the freedoms of speech and personal privacy granted to us by the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights (e.g., via 1st and 4th Amendments, respectively), interpretation and practice can at times be unclear. This gives rise to many challenges for career legal professionals tasked with sifting through the ambiguity caused by an Internet-based world where personal information is not only widely accessible, but distributed quickly as well. While paralegal certification programs are growing in popularity with more people interested in entering the field of law, the issues created by online social networks will be sure to be a burden on the minds of future professionals in the field of law.
So while we do try to bite our tongue at times to not offend or simply be polite, what happens if we just feel that everyone is listening? Will self-censorship increase if you knew your boss was listening, or if a government operative were monitoring your private Facebook emails. How does this relate to social media and privacy? In two recent instances, there have been cases where people are “listening” to what you’re saying online in a way that can only be deemed invasive.
In the first instance, as reported by the Associated Press, employers are asking potential employees for their Facebook username and password, so they can have full access to the potential employee’s site – and should the job seeker refuse to provide his password, he may be denied employment. As this practice has become publicized, there have been some strong reactions. Facebook stated that under no circumstances should a user provide his password to another individual, since this practice violates Facebook’s user agreement. However, this does not directly address the First and Fourth Amendment issues of freedom of speech and freedom of privacy. The primary issue here is: Do employers have the right to monitor potential employees’ speech, and to investigate their privately-posted material? Senators Charles Schumer (NY) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) feel they may not and have requested that the Department of Justice investigate if the practice violates federal law. Additionally, some states are taking matters into their own hands. As reported by ABC News, Maryland has already passed legislation that makes it illegal for employers to demand social media passwords from potential employees.
An even more troubling instance of monitoring was reported in Wired magazine by journalist James Bamford. His article regarding the NSA reveals that the United States Government is in the business of surveillance. A $2 billion dollar facility is being built in Bluffdale, Utah, called the Utah Data Center. As Mr. Bamford reports, the purpose of the “listening center” is to monitor citizens’ (and foreigners’) emails, cellphone calls, Google searches and electronic purchases. The center will have enough data storage that, for example, all the phone calls and emails of a single person can be easily collected and stored. Meaning that anything you say has the potential to be monitored and later used against you. In such a situation, one justifiably wonders if soon one’s ideas and speech will be free at all.Follow @azatty