Privacy in California, Online and on your Phone
Interesting developments on internet related privacy law in California. First, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill which makes it illegal for employers to require individuals to turn over their password to their email and social media network accounts. Second, Governor Brown vetoes a bill which would require police to obtain a warrant before using cell phone or tablet computer tracking information to find an individual’s location.
Both issues involve an individuals expectation of privacy, and whether or not the information which is made available electronically diminishes that expectation. In my opinion, the reasonable divider between expectation of privacy is built on whether or not the information is made available to someone for commercial or other use.
On the issue of email and social network accounts. I would tend to look at those issues as being two separate items. In general, individuals do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their own personal email accounts, not so with their work accounts. The content of emails is private, and no one other than the individual who has access to the account has access to that information. It is not used for tracking individuals webviewing or buying habits. The content is not analyzed for commercial use, and individuals are not shown advertisement based on the content of their emails. In otherwords, no one other than the user, uses that information. It is completely private.
In general, social networks are different, even under the strictest privacy settings, information posted on facebook and twitter is made available to (guess who), facebook and twitter. Even under their own privacy rules, social networks can and do use the information you post for commercial use. Often it is for targeting advertising, demographic studies, and other means made available to marketers for targeting and trend analysis purposes. With the signing of this bill, it appears that privacy rights with regards to employers, has been extended to include social networks. However, it has not extended the legal notion of “reasonable expectation of privacy” with regards to the governments ability to track information on social networks, or use it in establishing probable cause.
Same goes for tracking systems on cell phones. Every company you give permission to track your location on your mobile device, uses that information for some commercial purpose. So when you give goolgle maps “permission” to use your location, you may be allowing them to find out where you go and when in order to figure out your habits. This again may be used for targeting purposes.
So guess what, if you give access to a company information for their own use, even though you may think it is private, you have voluntarily dimished your own reasonable expectation of privacy. And, so if companies can use the information, in general that means the government can too.