Internet privacy bill unnecessary
Published: Sunday, May 22, 2011
Updated: Monday, May 23, 2011 16:05
California is currently considering legislation that would change the privacy protections of many social networking sites, such as Facebook and Google. The bill, Senate Bill 242, was created as an effort to ensure that that the personal information of users of these sites would not be shared without their consent.
To achieve this goal, the bill would require users to specify their privacy settings as part of the process for signing up for an account. It would also force these companies to institute default privacy settings that don't give out more than a user's name and place of residence. Although there have been no talks of passing this type of bill in Florida, this legislation would be the wrong move for this state and should also not be passed in California.
In a letter to State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D), an alliance of Internet companies, trade groups and other technological organizations rightly pointed out that this would increase the operating costs for these groups. Under the bill, companies must remove any information that a user wants removed within 48 hours or face a $10,000 fine, according to the Huffington Post. This could potentially force sites like Facebook to begin charging for their service, which will probably be unpopular with users. It could end up suppressing the growth of these sites and instead decrease the amount of people using them.
The bill also empowers parents to request that social networking sites remove information that a minor has posted online. It essentially makes these sites play the role of social worker, acting as the middle man between the parent and the child. While it may sound righteous to give parents this power over websites, the reality is that these sites could be inundated with an avalanche of requests from parents.
Opponents of the legislation claim that there is a potential First Amendment violation with this bill because it restricts the users' ability to "continue speaking as desired." The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting many forms of speech, with certain exceptions, such as hate speech. This law is a potential violation of this amendment because it forces people to hide most of their information until they have chosen otherwise. This is due to the provision that requires social sites to institute default privacy settings.
It could also have a slippery slope effect. The government could feel even more empowered to institute stricter privacy standards, possibly determining on its own what information a user is allowed to provide to the public. Passing this law in California could set off a trend, where many other states decide to follow suit.
This legislation should not be passed in California and should not be considered in Florida or other states. It is an infringement on the individual liberty of citizens. Social networking sites already provide privacy settings for users, and individuals should be held accountable to learn how to adjust these settings when they sign up for an account.
It is not the role of the government to come in and try to be the mother hen by forcing social networking sites to implement default privacy settings in the name of protecting users. This legislation unfairly singles out and cracks down on social networking sites and restricts the ability of individuals to speak freely; it should not be actualized.