Thursday, November 19, 2009

ACLU Launches MUCH NEEDED DotRights Campaign

My friends at the ACLU, with special thanks to Nicole Ozer, the Norther California branch Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director, have launched an exciting, and what I consider to be an incredibly important campaign called"DotRights".

The campaign was launched yesterday with an ENORMOUS task in front of it: both educating the public about our right to control our data on the Internet and throughout our evolving cyberspace reality, as well as the concrete steps we need to take to protect our privacy rights. And as the campaign notes, some fairly broad rights were granted - though its intent is rarely followed - to each and every one of us by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986.

In other words, while the campaign's goal and challenge appear to be almost revolutionary in scope, the fact is its making a rather simple point: the law itself is not currently being followed (or at least its intent) when it comes to our privacy and the use of our personal data on the Internet and its time it is. For that to happen, the rules of the game must be strengthened and updated (i.e. brought into the 21st Century). I'm in!

In a statement released yesterday as the group unveiled its slick, interactive, and informative Web site called, as you might guess:, the ACLU said its goal was to "spotlight the need to upgrade laws protecting consumer data".

For anyone that ever reads this blog you probably already are aware of the myriad of ways in which companies and government agencies take advantage of both a lax legal landscape that allows massive amounts of our personal data to be collected and sold simply based on our browsing habits...and the lack of consumer understanding of this growing business practice.

Think behavioral marketing, think Google books, think Facebook, think the coming smart grid, think locational tracking, think government surveillance, and so on, and so forth. The list is becoming infinitely long as today's information economy grows and evolves...which is precisely the point of the ACLU'S DotsRights effort.

Check out this particularly useful tool on the it takes you through step by step how your data can be used for purposes other than what you want it to be...

Among some of the specific policy recommendations being made by the site, we've got updating Internet privacy laws (a major theme I highlight on this blog: the need for regulation to catch up with technological innovation) - such as new legislation forcing Web sites to disclose what information they gather about users and permitting those visitors to have their information deleted free of charge.

But enough of my description of the campaign, let's get to Nicole Ozer's, as published in the California Progress Report yesterday.

Nicole writes:

Your life, your data. Or is it? When we update our status on Facebook, post those photos on Flickr, or shop for holiday gifts on Amazon, a whole lot happens behind the scenes. The more we do online, the more digital footprints we leave behind. Many sites we visit collect detailed information about us—our politics, hobbies, relationships and more.

Outdated privacy laws often fail to keep your personal information from being shared, sold, or handed over to a snooping government—without a warrant! And the government and some Web companies don't exactly want us to connect the dots.


Online companies regularly receive demands for personal information about their users—with little to no judicial oversight. Facebook reportedly receives up to 100 demands each week seeking information about its users. AOL reportedly receives 1,000 demands a month.

In 2006, a U.S. Attorney demanded book purchase records of 24,000 customers. (In a show of loyalty to users, the company successfully fought back against the subpoena.) Other companies, like Google, don't make public how often information about their users is demanded or disclosed.

No one should be forced to choose between using the Internet and keeping their personal information from being misused. We shouldn't have to pay for these seemingly free online services with personal details about our lives.

That's where the ACLU of Northern California's new Demand Your dotRights campaign comes in. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at everything from social networking, to photo sites, to search engines. The campaign helps you connect the dots to see how your favorite online activities make it harder for you to keep your private information, well, private. If you've seen our ACLU Facebook quiz, you're already aware of the problem—but that's just the tip of the iceberg.


Consumers clearly want more control over personal information, so it's good business for companies to join consumers in demanding a privacy upgrade. A 2009 national telephone survey conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, and University of Pennsylvania revealed that 92% of American adults believe they should retain the right to delete their information from a site, and 69% feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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