Daniel J. Solove is the John Marshall Harlan Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School and an internationally known expert in privacy law.
He has consulted in high-profile privacy law cases, contributed to amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court, and testified before Congress. He writes in the areas of information privacy law, cyberspace law, law and literature, jurisprudence, legal pragmatism, and constitutional theory. He is the author of the books Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff Between Privacy and Security (Yale University Press forthcoming 2011), Understanding Privacy (Harvard University Press 2008), The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet (Yale University Press 2007), The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Internet Age (NYU Press 2004), in addition to several textbooks and numerous articles and essays, which have appeared in many of the leading law reviews.
He received his A.B. in English Literature from Washington University, where he was an early selection for Phi Beta Kappa, and his J.D. from Yale Law School.
CiviliNation: You’re one of the world’s leading experts on privacy and privacy law. In your view, has the risk to online personal privacy become greater in the past decade?
Daniel Solove: Absolutely. Companies are gathering and using more personal data. The government is doing so as well, and new surveillance technologies are being developed to make one’s mind spin. And we are also invading each other’s privacy via our online postings – and creating risks to ourselves as well.
CiviliNation: What is your response to people who claim that online reputational and privacy attacks against adults are rare and not something that most people need to worry about?
Daniel Solove: They aren’t rare. They are frequent enough that reputation-protection companies such as Reputation.com have developed into very profitable and successful businesses. I read countless stories about attacks. They are serious, and in some cases so severe that they have resulted in violence and even suicide. It is certainly true that most people will not be victimized, but a significant number will be. Most people won’t be killed in a car crash, but enough will be that we should take steps to improve car safety. The same goes for reputational and privacy attacks.
CiviliNation: Do you believe that social networking and other websites have any social or ethical responsibilities to help stem privacy violations and online attacks?
Daniel Solove: Yes. If you make a product that people can use to harm themselves or others, then you should do whatever you can to make sure that people use it appropriately and safely.
CiviliNation: Why do you think there is a frequent lack of understanding by law enforcement and the legal system about the depth and breadth of the problem of online attacks and cyberbullying against adults?
Daniel Solove: I think that part of the reason is that people can’t believe it. If they immerse themselves in the issue and read the comments and see the attacks, it is quite eye opening. There are a lot of very crude, cruel, and downright evil people out there – or perhaps more accurately, there is this very ugly side to many people. We just don’t see this side of people in our face-to-face encounters. But your co-worker who seems so quiet and polite in person can be seething with hate, bigotry, misogyny, maliciousness, and cruelty. It comes out online, when people think they are anonymous. This fact should be no surprise, as with every politician and celebrity caught in a sordid scandal, we say: “Gee, I thought I really knew this person, but I was wrong.” So I think people just don’t realize how many other people have this Mr. Hyde side. Of course, most people don’t have this ugly side, but a surprising number do, and it can be hard to wrap one’s mind around it because doing so can be a bit frightening and alarming.
CiviliNation: What role do you believe the law should play in helping reduce online attacks and privacy violations?
Daniel Solove: The law should definitely play a role. Precisely how is a very complex question, as the law must balance privacy, speech, and other interests. I explore this in my book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, which I’ve made available for free online.
CiviliNation: What three recommendations would you give adults to help protect themselves online?
- Google yourself frequently. Don’t be bashful and think it is vain. You can’t protect yourself if you don’t know what’s out there about you.
- If you find anything about you or your family members that is problematic, try informal means first to address the problem. Ask whomever posted it or the websites to please take it down. Be nice about it, because angry demands often make the poster want to retaliate.
- If it isn’t taken down, then reach out to services like Reputation.com for help, or contact a lawyer. Rarely will legal action help, as the law is slow and clunky and needs a lot of reform, but a lawyer can do things short of legal action that might help. Often, the threat of legal action is enough to fix the situation.
CiviliNation: In addition to teaching at George Washington University Law School, you also run TeachPrivacy. Tell us about your company.
Daniel Solove: Through TeachPrivacy, I develop privacy and data security training for various organizations – hospitals, schools, businesses, etc. This training is used to provide basic education to employees, students, faculty, doctors, etc. about how to protect privacy and security – and why doing so is important for clients, customers, patients, students, etc. Most privacy and data security incidents are caused by simple human mistakes, so education is essential to prevention. My training is computer-based, and consists of videos and interactive modules (quizzes, activities, and games), and I believe good training involves concrete stories and examples, and it must be engaging and memorable.