"Right now, it's pretty much like the Wild West, and we need to do something to combat that norm," says Daniel Solove, a professor at George Washington University and leading advocate of reining in online speech. . . .
"We can now readily capture information and images wherever we go, and we can then share them with the world at the click of a mouse," Solove wrote in his 2007 book, "The Future of Reputation." "Somebody you've never met can snap your photo and post it on the Internet. Or somebody that you know very well can share your cherished secrets with the entire planet."
The answer, Solove believes, lies in giving people more explicit control over information about them. As Solove sees it, the Web highlights an existing set of problems with how American law treats the divulging of intimate details - whether they end up on the Internet or not. For example, American courts tend to assume that once you tell someone a secret, unless that person is your doctor or lawyer or minister, it's basically public. It's therefore futile to sue a former lover for breach-of-confidentiality for telling someone about your sexual hang-ups, even if that "someone" is thousands of readers of a blog post.
"There's a notion in the law that if you tell a secret to another person you just risk that they might betray you," Solove says, "that if you tell a friend or spouse your secret and they spread it, you shouldn't have trusted them, it's tough luck and you should find new friends. I think that is problematic."
There is an alternative. In England, courts enforce a far broader duty of confidentiality, upholding breach-of-confidentiality lawsuits against loose-lipped ex-spouses and lovers. Solove would like to see the United States move to a legal regime more like that one, so that we're not held hostage by the questionable trustworthiness of our friends. . . .
Solove, for his part, argues that describing the debate simply as one about freedom of speech leaves out an important part of the equation.
"We have to be able to go about most of our lives with the assumption that no one's going to be recording everything we do and broadcasting it on the Web," he says. That, he argues, is also a form of freedom worth protecting.
Daniel Solove, a law professor at George Washington University, explores the boom in shame sites in his new book, "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet."
The book is full of cautionary tales about how gossip, once restricted to whisper campaigns within limited circles, is fast creating indelible stains, driven by the Web. The piling-on by gleeful cyber-vigilantes often punishes people out of proportion to the infraction, he notes.
He opens the book with the story of so-called "dog-poop girl," a South Korean who was caught on camera in 2005 refusing to pick up after her pooch did its business on the subway. Bloggers later identified the woman, whose story raced over the Internet, attracting mainstream attention and ultimately leading to her withdrawal from her university.
"It's similar to being forced to wear a digital scarlet letter or being branded or tattooed," Solove writes. "People acquire permanent digital baggage. They are unable to escape their past, which is forever etched into Google's memory."
[Joanne McNabb] read a new book by a law professor at George Washington University, Daniel Solove, another of her advisers, and she's decided California needs better laws. The book suggests ways that privacy laws could be tweaked without burdening the courts with more cases. For example, employers who run searches on job applicants could notify people about what they've found and give them a chance to explain.
George Washington University law professor Daniel Solove is a privacy expert, having lectured on the subject and penned numerous texts, both academic and popular. His recent book, "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet" (Yale University Press), addresses privacy issues that dominate the Internet today, as well as solutions for balancing new technology, freedom of speech and privacy.