Professor Hartzog is a Professor of Law and Computer Science at Northeastern University, where he teaches privacy and data protection law, policy, and ethics. He holds a joint appointment with the School of Law and the College of Computer and Information Science. His recent work focuses on the complex problems that arise when personal information is collected by powerful new technologies, stored, and disclosed online.
Professor Hartzog’s work has been published in numerous scholarly publications such as the Yale Law Journal, Columbia Law Review, California Law Review, and Michigan Law Review and popular national publications such as The Guardian, Wired, BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, New Scientist, Slate, The Atlantic, and The Nation. His book, Privacy’s Blueprint: The Battle to Control the Design of New Technologies, is under contract with Harvard University Press. He has testified twice before Congress on data protection issues.
Professor Hartzog has served as a Visiting Professor at Notre Dame Law School and the University of Maine School of Law. He previously worked as an attorney in private practice and as a trademark attorney for the United States Patent and Trademark Office. He also served as a clerk for the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He holds a PhD in mass communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an LLM in intellectual property from the George Washington University Law School, and a JD from Samford University.
I have just uploaded a new essay about online privacy to SSRN that will appear in Volume 46 of the Georgia Law Review. The essay, titled "Chain-Link Confidentiality," asserts that personal information that is shared online can be better protected if we require our confidants to make sure that their confidants are watching out for us. This strategy could help us retain control over our personal information as it moves downstream. Your comments are warmly welcome.
Last week, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in United States v. Jones, in which the Justices held that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constituted a Fourth Amendment search. The decision was surprisingly unanimous on this point, though concurring opinions by Justices Sotomayor and Alito potentially amplify the significance of the opinion by proposing alternate approaches to the larger problem of ubiquitous surveillance technologies and privacy in public. Given the majority opinion's narrow focus on the attachment of the device to the car, the larger issue of privacy in public remains unsettled.
Others have done an exemplary job of commenting on the decision. The dominant themes arising from the decision and analysis of the decision seem to be the (re?)injection of the concept of trespass into Fourth Amendment doctrine, signs of potential withering of the third party doctrine, and recognition that Fourth Amendment and privacy doctrine will soon enough be useless if they do not adequately protect against ever-evolving surveillance methods and technologies.
I'd like to focus on an aspect of the decision that has not shown up much in the analysis of the case, likely because it was never explicitly mentioned in the text. Although the word obscurity does not appear anywhere in United States v. Jones, I think the decision, particularly Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion, supports the idea that the obscurity of our personal information is worth protecting.
Editor's note: This piece originally appeared on TechTank.
Facebook’s recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reignited debate over whether the agency is up to the task of protecting privacy. Many people, including some skeptics of the FTC’s ability to rein in Silicon Valley, lauded the settlement, or at least parts of it.
We are constantly exposed in public. Yet most of our actions will fade into obscurity. Do you, for example, remember the faces of strangers who stood in line with you the last time you bought medicine at a drugstore? Probably not. Thanks to limited memory and norms against staring, they probably don’t remember yours either.
Since the dawn of the Internet, American regulators and companies have pursued two goals to protect our privacy: that people should be in control of their data and that companies should be transparent about what they do with our data. We can see these goals detailed in the privacy policies and terms of service that we “agree” to as well as companies’ increasingly complicated systems of privacy dashboards, permissions and sharing controls.
"Another way to understand the constitutionality of revenge porn statutes is through the lens of confidentiality law. Woodrow Hartzog persuasively contends that revenge porn is a “legally actionable breach of confidence.”"
"“This is the first case I’ve seen precisely along these lines,” said Woodrow Hartzog, a professor of law at the Cumberland School of Law at Sanford University in Alabama.
“So one thing that’s interesting to me is that there’s this challenge to this image, it strikes me that there is nothing truly exceptional about a video camera as a surveillance system. But that’s not the only thing that a red light camera does. There’s an algorithm that monitors when a car has violated the law.”"
""Once a technology is adopted by the masses, it becomes much harder to regulate," Hartzog explained. As an example, he cited online tracking software like site cookies, which remains largely ungoverned. By the time groups that wanted a sharper definition of privacy got organized, the technology had already spawned thriving industries with powerful corporate support."
"Those who object to the cameras don't do so solely on the grounds of an unproven safety record. Woodrow Hartzog, a law professor at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University, has written extensively on robotics and the law. He told Ars that one of the reasons people don’t like red light cameras is because the system “makes the entire process less transparent.”"
Solutions to many pressing economic and societal challenges lie in better understanding data. New tools for analyzing disparate information sets, called Big Data, have revolutionized our ability to find signals amongst the noise. Big Data techniques hold promise for breakthroughs ranging from better health care, a cleaner environment, safer cities, and more effective marketing. Yet, privacy advocates are concerned that the same advances will upend the power relationships between government, business and individuals, and lead to prosecutorial abuse, racial or other profiling, discrimination, redlining, overcriminalization, and other restricted freedoms.
Listen to the full radio show (in German) at Deutschlandradio.
"On the other hand: even algorithms can make mistakes. You will eventually written by humans. And just legal texts can be difficult in a formalized language to translate. They are, says Woodraw Hartzog, just not made for it to be automated. And they are not made to be enforced to one hundred percent."