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The Internet of Things: What’s Happening To Our Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?
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The Internet of Things: What’s Happening To Our Reasonable Expectation of Privacy? - Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: What’s Happening To Our Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

Executive Leadership Articles

The Internet of Things: What’s Happening To Our Reasonable Expectation of Privacy?

In the early days of affordable digital photography, cameras got smaller and people got creative. It cost just as much to shoot a hundred photos as five, so creative shooters could try all kinds of crazy things they might not have when they were paying for film and processing. This meant photos in restaurants, at malls, of everyday people doing everyday things, and just about anywhere you could get away with it.

As they rushed to protect their customers from the yet-unknown pitfalls of this new (and newly ubiquitous) technology, many businesses established no-photography-without-permission rules, and since they were private enterprises on private property, it was certainly within their rights to restrict photography, although the argument continued for years about whether it was sensible policy.

Public spaces presented a different situation entirely, but that didn’t stop many governments from trying to restrict a citizen’s right to use his or her camera, especially while documenting criminal or law-enforcement activity. If you knew where to look, you could find a new story every day about some representative of some government confiscating a camera used on public property to record the actions of some public employee, in some cases manhandling people to get them away from the scene, and in others destroying camera equipment.

The response in some photographers’ online communities was to assemble a guideline, often called some variant of Your Rights as a Photographer, making it clear that if you were in a public space, you were allowed to take photos. Further, if you were physically in a public space, you had a right to photograph anything you could see from that public space, even if it was a private space you were looking into from your public-space vantage.

It all makes sense to a reasonable person, and photographers learned to assert their rights in pursuit of citizen journalism or art or just plain fun. The problem now is that the technology has made things less clear-cut, bumping right against another kind of reasonable: the reasonable expectation of privacy. The concept says that whatever your freedoms indicate, they are restricted in situations where you have a either a societally or personally defined right to privacy. A public park is a public space, but a bathroom stall in that park is private, according to the concept of a reasonable expectation of privacy. This means (as has been upheld in high-profile court cases) that covert photography of people in these spaces is not protected by the law.

However, cameras now can shoot decent photos from very long distances, so if a photographer is standing in a public spot and can see well enough into a private yard at the top of a mountain to take identifiable pictures of famous people in states of undress, is he or she within her rights to take the photos, or are the famous people within theirs to demand privacy? A resident on the ground floor of an apartment building is careful to keep drapes closed when privacy is needed, while a resident on the twentieth floor of the building might expect more privacy and less need for drapes. If a drone operator takes video through the twentieth-story window, operating legally in public space, is it the resident’s fault for leaving the drapes flung wide open?

Now apply these grey areas to the everything-is-online Internet of Things. What’s your reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to cloud storage, or conversations in your home which might be picked up by your voice-activated IoT command hub? If you’re driving in a smart city where streets track traffic and parking, are your comings and goings part of the public record, and is there any way to opt out?

On one hand, much of this data may seem innocuous. Who cares if others know what you’re reading at the library, or when you went to the grocery store? On the other, whether it’s harmful or not should be left to you, at least up to a point. The argument that you aren’t doing anything wrong so why should you care doesn’t fly: if you’re not shoplifting, you have nothing to hide from surveillance cameras in department store dressing rooms, but your nudity is up to you to share or not share. Some people feel the same way about how they spend their time and money, and it’s not ridiculous for them to want some control over who sees it.

Much of the discussion about the emerging IoT is about security--protecting your data from those who might use it for ill. Yet this related topic is important, too, and the two concerns shouldn’t be lumped together as part of the same idea. How the laws will adjust or be created in support of reasonable expectations of privacy is a battle that hasn’t quite taken shape.


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The Internet of Things: What’s Happening To Our Reasonable Expectation of Privacy? - Executive Leadership Articles

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