Privacy Advocates Annoyed By Media Distorting Their Privacy Advocacy

M. Ryan Calo, director of the Consumer Privacy Project, is mentioned in the following article clarifying some of his earlier comments on the effects of Wikileaks on free speech online:

In the world o’ privacy that I inhabit, there are currently two huge stories subject to much public discussion. The first is the Department of Justice’s investigation of Wikileaks supporters’ activity on Twitter and the second is th government’s plan for a “trusted ID system for cyberspace.” In both cases, privacy experts are happy to see privacy concerns getting full play in the discussion, but annoyed to find their views distorted for the sake of a media narrative.

Luckily, thanks to this Internet thingy we have, those experts get to respond and rebuke, accordingly…


The Twitter-DoJ kerfuffle led to a piece in the New York Times suggesting that digital privacy laws need updating, as law enforcement is increasingly turning to tech companies for information in the course of investigations. The main law governing what and how they can get what they get dates back to 1986, when a tweet was only something a bird did and facebook would refer solely to a text on the human visage. The piece quoted Ryan Calo, director of the consumer privacy project at the Center for Internet & Society at Stanford Law School, defending the government’s need to collect data:

“When your job is to protect us by fighting and prosecuting crime, you want every tool available. No one thinks D.O.J. and other investigative agencies are sitting there twisting their mustache trying to violate civil liberties. They’re trying to do their job.”

That sounds odd coming from a consumer privacy expert… and rightly so. Calo responded to the piece saying this gave a misleading impression of his views on the privacy issues:

"This particular remark was an aside, made if anything to soften the impression that I was overly critical of the government. For instance, I lamented that consumers do not understand the state of the electronic privacy law and spoke about the dangers of dragnet or otherwise excessive surveillance. (Presumably I am one of the unnamed “[e]lectronic privacy and civil rights advocates” that worries “because the WikiLeaks court order gained such widespread attention, it could have a chilling effect on people’s speech on the Internet.”)

I did not mean to imply that we should not push back against government and in fact praised Google and Twitter for having done so.