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Saturday, December 5, 2009

You Are The Strongest Defender of Your Own Privacy

Continuing a recent theme of articles on the so-called right of privacy, perhaps better known as the popular expectation of privacy, in the wake of the latest celebrity scandal.

Many believe that the Constitution is the strongest defense against invasions of privacy.   Perhaps that is the case with government-initiated invasions of privacy.   However, as recent technological advances and innovations have shown, it is third parties which may be the biggest threat.   This shift is significant.   At least a government actor is governed by the Constitution and a raft of laws and regulations -- not to mention the specter of civil rights lawsuits -- precluding its behavior and offering the opportunity and potential for redress to its victims.   Private third parties are often much freer to act in a way which can compromise the rights of other private parties. 

Today I argue that our fundamental approach to defending our privacy may be misguided.   Some of us demonstrate our utter foolishness by braying, "I have the right..." whenever we feel violated.   That is stupidity.   The existence of the right and our possession of it are not in dispute.   Here's what should be in dispute: it is what we are doing to protect our privacy, within the rights we have and within our abilities to protect it.

The basic problem with relying on an assertion of the right of privacy (or any right) is that by the time you've asserted it, you've been violated or invaded in some way, or threatened.    The damage is already done.   Let's approach the problem from the angle of preventing the damage in the first place.  

Many people reveal a great deal about themselves.   The popular acronym for this is "TMI" - too much information.   There are some people who seem to reveal everything about their daily regimen except the specific type of STD they are suffering from.   A substantial portion of the current 20-something generation is engaged in an apparent 24/7/365 marketing campaign, if not to get a job then to find a significant other, or both, among other things.   (Some argue: This is why America is in decline, we no longer produce anything, we just market ourselves and peddle our garbage to bigger fools than we.   But I digress.)   For investigative attorneys such as myself, this is a gold mine.

Indiscretions, ignorance and stupidity trip up some bad people as well as the many foolish, gullible or naive among us.   The wealth of personal information about us that is readily available and collectible (with significant effort needed to aggregate and winnow out unresponsive or noncredible information) makes many of us tremendously vulnerable to crime, whether it be identity fraud or telemarketing scams, or other types of wholly legitimate solicitations which still have the impact of separating us from our money.  

We share too much about ourselves.  This is not just the result of an overreliance on technology.   It also results from misplaced trust and blind belief that others in the private sector will respect our privacy and not ever misuse or violate the trust we have placed in them.  

If you want to find out who is the most effective defender of your own privacy, look in the mirror tonight.   It's you.  It's always been you.   There is no substitute for your own vigilance.   Stop waiting for the cavalry to arrive, riding white horses and carrying flowing copies of the Constitution.   Stop putting your fate in the hands of others.   Put it back in your own hands.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer and strategic consultant for businesses, political campaigns and individuals. Mr. Dixon is available for comment or consultation at and 917-696-2442.


  1. Part of the problem to me is Facebook and Twitter and such. What really grates me about those, is that someone who knows you can indiscriminantly post things about me without my even knowing. I just took my son on a college trip and meet an old friend and talked to them. This person then posted that they saw us at the college and some of our conversation. Names, approximate ages, some personal interests, compromised to who knows who. We rat each other out daily.

  2. Just goes to show there's just no defense against ignorance and stupidity.

    My advice: Keep your old friend an "old friend" and find some new friends who respect your family's privacy.