In the United States, civil liberties and privacy protections have been under siege for some time now. While this is
not a political blog, there are some scary things happening out there that affect virtually everyone who has ever used a computer. (This means you.) The recent ruling did not get as much press as it might have, largely because it happened right before the July 4th holiday. So, in case you missed it:
Viacom sued YouTube awhile back for allowing distribution of their copyrighted materials. On July 2, 2008, a US District Court judge issued a ruling requiring YouTube to turn over massive amounts of user data to Viacom, a notoriously litigious company. This data includes YouTube usernames, IP addresses and every video that users may have viewed. The judge, who is 87 years old, dismissed the privacy concerns as “speculative.” (I point out his age for a reason. Digital issues are different from analog ones and I believe it is fair to question whether someone who was graduated from law school in 1955 is the best person for the job.) Regardless of whether you agree or disagree, this is setting up to allow Viacom to come after individual users, just like the RIAA did when people downloaded music. The point is, by releasing all this data, it oversteps the parameters of the lawsuit, in which Viacom seeks to understand the popularity of copyrighted vs. non-copyrighted material. (To be clear, I am not suggesting that Viacom should not protect their copyrights. They absolutely should. Copyright laws in a digital age are far from perfect, but for the moment, they’re all we have and artists need to be protected.)
Google/YouTube, for its part, has shown no backbone and thrown all of us poor users under the bus. That means you, that means me, that means everyone who has been on YouTube, which is virtually everyone who has ever logged onto a computer. Did you realize you might have been violating the law way back when you might have checked out last night’s Daily Show on YouTube before all their episodes were moved to their own website? Of course not.
Viacom can fight this suit with anonymized logs and Google/YouTube ought to have more spine. They’re Google for God’s sake. I think they can afford lawyers. They should be defending their users’ right to privacy.
Today (8 July 2008), the US Senate will be voting on the FISA bill. FISA might seem far removed from your day to day life. Your not a terrorist, right? You’ve got nothing to hide. WRONG!
Phone companies should not be sharing what calls you make/take. Video stores shouldn’t share what movies you rent (anyone here old enough to remember failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork?). And YouTube should not be rolling over so easily and giving up its users’ information.
There is still time for Google/YT to reconsider, of course. But this ruling, and scores others like it over the past 7 years, have a chilling effect on our rights. Nothing you do online is private. Nothing.