Thursday, October 7, 2010

Notes from a law professor at GW in DC

From the facts I’ve learned thus far, it remains unclear precisely
what motivated Ravi and Wei’s actions. What is clear is that this
case illustrates that young people are not being taught how to use the
Internet responsibly. Far too often, privacy invasions aren’t viewed
as a serious harm. They are seen a joke, as something causing minor
embarrassment. This view is buttressed by courts that routinely are
dismissive of privacy harms. It continues to persist because few
people ever instruct young people about how serious privacy invasions
are. Another attitude that remains common is that the Internet is a
radically-free zone, and people can say or post whatever they want
with impunity.

But privacy is a serious matter. People are irreparably harmed by the
disclosure of their personal data, their intimate moments, and their
closely-held secrets. Free speech isn’t free. Freedom of speech is
robust, but it is far from absolute. Today, everyone has a profound
set of powers at their fingertips — the ability to capture information
easily and disseminate it around the world in instant. These were
powers only a privileged few used to have. But with power must come
responsibility. Using the Internet isn’t an innocuous activity, but
is a serious one, more akin to driving a car than to playing a video
game. Young people need to be taught this. The consequences to
themselves and others are quite grave.

I doubt Ravi and Wei realized that their actions would contribute to a
young man’s suicide. I doubt they had any idea that their actions
were criminal. They’ve learned these lessons now. Sadly, it is far
too late.

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