[LINK] Wired - Debating Free Speech v. Privacy
Mon, 5 Jun 2000 18:46:45 +1000 (EST)
A story about a debate on free speech v privacy from Wired.
Debating Free Speech v. Privacy
by Declan McCullagh
7:00 a.m. Jun. 2, 2000 PDT
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- In an Internet age of cookies, webcams,
and pay-per-peek voyeurism, do we even have any privacy left to
The answer: It depends on whom you ask.
During a conference at Harvard University
(http://www.is2k.harvard.edu/home.htm) on Thursday, privacy advocates
argued for restrictions on publishing information.
"There's a privacy interest even in things that take place in public,
especially in this age of webcams," Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of
the Privacy Journal, said during an afternoon panel at the Internet
and Society 2000 conference.
Some state governments have set up webcams that monitor busy and
accident-prone highway interchanges, a practice that Smith said goes
But Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union,
said that the Internet should not be subject to more restrictions
than print or broadcasting.
"The same First Amendment principles that apply to traditional media
should apply here," Strossen said.
Privacy and free speech rights have long been in opposition, or at
least in tension: Free speech means you can talk about someone else,
but a privacy right might let someone else stop you from publishing.
An influential 1890 article published in the Harvard Law Review
complains that free speech rights must give way to privacy.
"The press is overstepping in every direction the obvious bounds of
propriety and of decency. Gossip is no longer the resource of the
idle and of the vicious, but has become a trade, which is pursued
with industry as well as effrontery," wrote the authors, Samuel
Warren and Louis Brandeis.
Brandeis eventually became a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The reason for their ire? The tabloid press of the day was airing
gossip about Warren's daughter's wedding.
On the Harvard panel, members seemed to agree that the federal
government should release "worst case" accident information it
requires chemical companies to submit.
Under a compromise proposal reached in April, Americans can visit
local government offices and view the information, but not take
copies or obtain the chemical release data in electronic form.
"People in my district do want to know if there's lead in the soil,"
said Marie St. Fleur, a Massachusetts state representative.
The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have said terrorists --
think Libya and Iraq -- could compile the information and use it to
target chemical plants.
"If the attitude that information could be misused was a rationale
for suppressing it, we wouldn't have a Freedom of Information Act. We
wouldn't have public libraries," Strossen said.
But a few minutes later, under pointed questioning from panel
moderator Jonathan Zittrain of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet
and Society, Strossen said that if the situtation involved criminal
records being placed on a government website, she would err on the
side of nondisclosure.
"I do not think that public safety is enhanced by having that
information out there," Strossen said.
Privacy Journal's Smith said he would go even further.
"Why couldn't journalists and the government agree on an intermediary
to analyze the data?" he asked.
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