Independent of all existing privacy controls, we need to realize that what is put online can never be considered completely secure or completely private. What we post on social media, once posted, is out of our control and could have undesirable effects, as many people have learned the hard way.
The following NYT article discusses examples of real people who have lost their reputations and their jobs because of online behavior–both their own and that of others: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/magazine/how-one-stupid-tweet-ruined-justine-saccos-life.html?_r=0. It is a good example of how one thoughtless remark on Twitter can have devastating effects for a person’s life–from their relationships to their career.
The article raises some interesting ethics questions regarding acceptable use of social media. The phenomenon of public shaming through social media may spark some interesting debate among high school students.
Privacy issues are not confined to the individual or to corporations. Government plays a huge role in the privacy debate as well. Not all countries and not all people in a particular country agree on what a government’s rights should be and what citizens’ rights should be. There is often a tradeoff between security and privacy. On the one hand, citizens want to feel that their private lives are protected even from the government. On the other hand, citizens want to feel secure. Governments justify the use of digital surveillance to attempt to prevent dangerous situations, such as terrorist attacks. The controversy arises regarding where the line is drawn and regarding how aware citizens are of the government’s activities.
The case of Edward Snowden is notable because it is recent and ongoing, and it has sparked a lot of debate about the tradeoff between security and privacy. Snowden, who has previously worked for the CIA, was working at Booz Allen Hamilton, an NSA contractor. In 2013 he left his job, taking thousands of classified documents with him. He then disclosed some of those documents to several journalists, claiming that it was in the public’s interest to know what kind of surveillance the NSA was conducting on American citizens. The surveillance included gathering data from e-mails, phone conversations, instant messaging, and texts. Currently, Snowden is believed to be in Russia, where he has been granted temporary asylum since he has been charged with espionage and theft of government property.
The following links give more information on the Snowden case:
The documentary “Citizenfour” directed by Laura Poitras and released in 2014, documents meetings between Edward Snowden and a reporter. The movie received the 2015 Oscar for best documentary.