Obstruct First, Ask Questions Later

Perplexed by the latest Washington impasse over the payroll tax cut? Wonder if the Republicans are doing anything other than saying no, just because they can? I am. And so is The Wall Street Journal editorial page, not a place I go normally for reassuring agreement with my views.  In an article titled “The GOP’s Payroll Tax Fiasco” the Journal states

The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.  Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible . . . . The entire exercise is political, but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.

The article concludes “[a]t this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly.”

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare

We’re Somewhere Between 90th and 99th Percentile. You, I Don’t Know.

Spurred by the imminent closure of the encampment in Boston’s Dewey Square we again debated Occupy Wall Street at coffee this morning. Some of my friends argue that the occupations have been essential to starting a national debate on the protesters’ message. My response–after making clear that I harbor no animosity towards the protests–, was that there is no unified message, other than that the economic system is unfair. And that’s not news. There’s certainly no agreement on the root of income inequality–protesters blame everything from Wall Street’s greed to capitalism’s essence. “We are the 99%” implies that the 99% have common economic social interests–a preposterous idea, as this Household Income Graph demonstrates:

Where Do You Fall on the Income Curve” states “the difference in incomes between a household at the 98th percentile and the 99th percentile is $146,118 ($360,435 jumps up to $506,553).” Mind you, that’s the difference between just the 98th and 99th percentile of household income: “the difference in income between a household at the 50th percentile and a household at the 51st percentile is $1,237 ($42,327 versus $43,564).” “We are the 99%” is short, catchy, and sounds relevant, while being useless as a platform to actually do anything.

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare

Non-U.S. View of Workplace Privacy

In the typical U.S. workplace the employer owns the computer network, which it supplies to employees exclusively or primarily for work-related purposes. Employees generally receive little privacy protection in their workplace email and Internet activity. This article from The Privacy Advisor discusses a recent decision by the Israeli National Labor Court that expands employee privacy in the workplace and establishes a nuanced framework to guide future cases. The article’s author says the decision demonstrates “a general trend of increased sensitivity by the courts outside the U.S. to e-mail privacy.” The decision obviously does not bind any U.S. court, but it does provide a lens through which to evaluate our blunt-instrument approach to these issues.

While not long the article’s description of the National Labor Court decision contains too much information to describe here in detail. Briefly, the decision defines four different types of employee mailboxes and establishes monitoring and reviewing rules for each: “‘professional mailbox[es]’  . . . provided by employers for professional purposes only,” “‘mixed mailbox[es]’ . . . provided by the employer for both professional and personal purposes, ” “employer-provided personal mailbox[es],” and “employees’ private mailbox[es].”  Employers must inform employees of their limited rights to use professional mailboxes and employers right to monitor such mailboxes, must obtain employees’ general consent to monitor such mailboxes, and yet “is nevertheless prevented from reviewing [professional mailboxes’] content without the employee’s specific consent,” even though “the employee is not authorized to engage in [personal] correspondence.” In contrast, U.S. law does not constrain employers’ rights to review the contents of such professional mailboxes. The decision imposes greater restrictions on employers’ power to monitor and review the contents of the other types of mailboxes, ending here: ‘[m]onitoring of [] private mailbox[es] by the employer is prohibited without a court order.”

We will see whether U.S. courts join this general trend.

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare

+-ing Google+

Wired offers an interesting perspective on Why Google+ Pages (Will) Beat Facebook, and Twitter.

Google+ Pages are where businesses interact with web denizens on the cutting edge of net technology, and Facebook is where you interact with everyone else. Facebook boasts 800 million users, while Google claims 40 million. Google’s limited audience isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For now, Plus streams generally contain “non-frivolous” information. A company’s message isn’t lost amid a sea of random pictures and cat videos. Of course, this may change. But more importantly, Google integrates Plus into its web-dominating search engine . . . This is where Google will have an advantage over Facebook: With a broad array of services like search and Gmail and Chrome and Android, Google offers tools that are fundamental to the online lives of so many people — and these can be tied to Google+. As Google+ evolves, Google will have the means to promote its social network — and the branded Pages within it — in ways that Facebook or Twitter cannot.

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare

If You Are Totally Shameless You Have Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Last week in privacy law we discussed Daniel J. Solove’s excellent article “Why Privacy Matters Even If You Have ‘Nothing to Hide.'” Solove addresses the tension between government security-related policies and practices and privacy rights, a tension many resolve by saying “I don’t care if the government listens to my calls/reads my email/attaches a GPS to my car because I have done nothing wrong, have nothing to be ashamed of, and therefor have nothing to hide.” Such a position equates privacy with secrecy, and nothing more. Solove’s point is that privacy

is too complex a concept to be reduced to a singular essence. It is a plurality of different things that do not share any one element but nevertheless bear a resemblance to one another. For example, privacy can be invaded by the disclosure of your deepest secrets. It might also be invaded if you’re watched by a peeping Tom, even if no secrets are ever revealed. With the disclosure of secrets, the harm is that your concealed information is spread to others. With the peeping Tom, the harm is that you’re being watched. You’d probably find that creepy regardless of whether the peeper finds out anything sensitive or discloses any information to others.

Solove goes on to discuss other privacy-related harms that can occur from government information-gathering programs and concludes that we should conceive of privacy as concept that embraces many interests, not secrecy alone.

The article by Cindy Gallop titled “Should we do away with privacy?” presents the “I’ve got nothing to hide perspective” so extremely that on first reading I thought it a parody:

If you identify exactly who you are and what you stand for, what you believe in, what you value, and if you then only ever behave, act and communicate in a way that is true to you, then you never have to worry about where anybody comes across you or what you’re found doing.  By definition you are never caught doing anything to be ashamed of.

What Gallop fails to acknowledge is that humans have an innate right to choose whether, how, and not to share personal information with others. (Gallop is an advertising consultant. Quelle surprise.) After suggesting how to implement this concept Gallop says

Now in a world of transparency, I am essentially unblackmail-able. I’m unblackmail-able because I have a secondary venture called Make Love Not Porn, and I launched it at the TED conference [organisation that promotes ideas] in 2009.

Once you have stood up on the stage at TED and announced that you have sex with younger men, no-one can ever shame or embarrass you ever again. So I live my life completely in the open, and that is an enormously stress free and relaxing way to be.

And by the way I realise that I am quite an extreme example of this, but the principles are the same for everybody.

Maybe this is a parody after all.

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare

Unspoken Agendas

Recently the WSJ conducted a panel discussion about online privacy. Panelist Christopher Soghoian’s perspective on Facebook resonates for me:

Although consumers knowingly share information via Facebook, the privacy issues associated with that company are not related to the way consumers use it, but rather the other things the company does. These include the tricks the company has pulled to expose users’ private data to third-party app developers, the changing privacy defaults for profile data, as well as Facebook’s covert surveillance of your browsing activities on non-Facebook websites, as long as a “Like” button is present (even if you don’t click on it).

The dirty secret of the Web is that the “free” content and services that consumers enjoy come with a hidden price: their own private data. Many of the major online advertising companies are not interested in the data that we knowingly and willingly share. Instead, these parasitic firms covertly track our web-browsing activities, search behavior and geolocation information. Once collected, this mountain of data is analyzed to build digital dossiers on millions of consumers, in some cases identifying us by name, gender, age as well as the medical conditions and political issues we have researched online.

Although we now regularly trade our most private information for access to social-networking sites and free content, the terms of this exchange were never clearly communicated to consumers.

(emphasis mine)

Bookmark/FavoritesEvernotePrintGoogle GmailPocketShare