Patterico's Pontifications


The Dark Side Of Privacy Laws

Filed under: Civil Liberties,Law — Justin Levine @ 9:59 pm

[posted by Justin Levine] 

Eugene Volokh examines an instance where privacy laws do far more harm than good. If anything Professor Volokh still manages to vastly understate the point and is far too deferential to the benefits of privacy law. I have long argued that the large majority of instances on how privacy laws are enforced prohibit freedoms to a much greater extent than they protect so-called “rights”. Most appeals to “privacy” are simply attempted power grabs by elites to prohibit unwelcome speech and criticism, or attempts by genuine wrong-doers to avoid valid scrutiny.

Laws to prevent people from secretly taking pictures of you going to the bathroom? Fine. I suspect most people can agree on that form of ‘privacy’. But modern privacy laws have mutated far beyond such concerns and should be viewed with extreme skepticism.

10 Responses to “The Dark Side Of Privacy Laws”

  1. Justin, you have a great post. In Canada, which while previously working in the role of a government bureaucrat, I know is well-versed in “Privacy Culture”:

    “Under privacy rules, a photo of a convict can’t be released unless he gives permission and signs a release form, said Corrections Canada, even if he breaks out of jail.”

    As the blogger linked above pointedly asks, “So How Do They Publish Photos Of Missing Persons?”

    Christoph (92b8f7)

  2. you can’t even tape a ransom call from a kidnapper in massachusetts? if i lived there, i’d go ahead and tape it anyway. after enough bs from government, even my strong aversion to killing people would eventually dissipate.

    assistant devil's advocate (7adc55)

  3. So how many reasons are there that forbid us from photographing or recording our civil servants, serving us civilly?

    TC (1cf350)

  4. “So How Do They Publish Photos Of Missing Persons?”

    probably by getting them from a different source than corrections canada.

    whitd (10527e)

  5. I work with privacy laws on the security/enforcement side (as opposed to legal)and I agree completely that they are a bridge too far (or more) at present. Yes, identity theft is a major concern and reality. However, not having any sort of “good samaritan” provision for the cases that really need to supercede the law creates nightmares at the practical level. See this very often with HIPAA enforcement especially where the laws conflict with common sense on dealing with loved ones of the ill.

    Good samaritans are literally excluded in many or most cases these days.

    Of course, this means we “need” more government intrusion to make up for the forcing out of private parties, and so the snake eats its tail and somehow grows and grows.

    Dan S (d80c9b)

  6. Don’t even get me started on the way HIPAA laws break down community and take privacy matters that were once common sense and make them criminal.

    If I was a nurse and knew your mother had been in an accident I would get fired if I told you. Thanks, Congress.

    God help you if you see a former patient at a party. You may as well find another profession.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  7. Let’s talk about privacy – why does every college my kid applies to need to know where I have lived my entire life, how long I have been married, and how much money my 9 year old has in her bank account? Why does my pediatrician need my 9 year old’s SS#?

    Why can anyone get my credit report for ten bucks?

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  8. If a kid is expelled from one school, that school can’t tell the next school why. But the family can say whatever they want about the first school.

    The restrictions do not limit gossip. They remove any ability an institution had to defend themselves from gossip.

    And then there is the issue of what used to be called professional references and are now simply a verification of employment. As usual, the effect is to silence just one of the two parties to a dispute. I may be straying into a discussion of libel. Whatever, I’m no lawyer.

    Amphipolis (fdbc48)

  9. Any comment on the sex offender murdered because he was on Megan’s List?

    Techie (ed20d9)

  10. I think the problem is that the privacy laws are created with the intent of providing individuals protection from institutions — and end up protecting institutions from individuals.

    I damn well want as much privacy as I can get from institutions — both governmental and corporate. It seems impossible, as post # 7 points out, to protect myself from spying corporations, which pass around so much information about me, without my control, that anyone can steal my identity at any time. The only protection I have is in numbers and dumb luck — hoping I won’t be one of the unlucky ones.

    In addition, the government is watching us at every turn, and can easily make life hell for an individual through all kinds of means; just read Balko’s blog for all the ways the government can tromp into your life and ruin it, supposedly for the good of the public.

    On the other hand, I can pretty much take care of myself when it comes to protecting my privacy from individuals — I just draw my blinds when I don’t want people peering in, and put up a fence around my backyard.

    While I like Volokh’s example, because it illustrates how an instution can use privacy laws against an individual. But on the other hand, generally those trying to get rid of privacy laws are doing so on behalf of either (1) institutions, or (2) the government/law enforcement. So modifications that get passed usually just make things worse, by letting institutions trample individuals even more.

    Phil (6d9f2f)

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