Tuesday, 31 May 2011

the cost of privacy

there's been a lot of news lately about the use of twitter to disclose information suppressed by the courts, brought to our attention because of a british football player. in all the discussion about loss of privacy, and the inability of law to keep up with technology, the focus tends to be on defendants, and very little on their victims.

one of the things we know about twitter is that it is a power tool for harassment of women who dare to file complaints of sexual assault. we've had the very famous case of julian assange, and the use of twitter to disclose the identity of the swedish women, who were then subject to threats and harassment.

even for less high-profile cases, victims of crime are equally at risk if their own name or the name of the accused/perpetrator is released. given the culture into which the names are released, one which blames and attacks victims & makes their lives extremely difficult (to the extent of being unable to work, in the case of the dominic strauss-kahn victim), it's yet another massive barrier that prevents reporting of rape and sexual violation.

there are those who think privacy is a waste of time, and not a realistic objective. i doubt those people realise the extent to which victims of crimes can and do suffer when privacy is breached. while the law in this area is being reviewed, ultimately i suspect that it will be the economics of the situation that will determine outcomes. it is costly and time-consuming to go after thousands of people on twitter or facebook, and unlikely to be practical.

this is not good news and will do nothing for the reporting rates of sexual abuse and rape which are already spectacularly low.

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