March 2008
Vol 5 No 3

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Teachers.Net Gazette Vol.5 No.3
March 2008
Cover Story by LaVerne Hamlin
Show Me The Money!!!
If you can develop a lesson plan for your class, then you can write a grant. Here's how!

Harry & Rosemary Wong
Effective Teaching
Coaching is six times more effective than class-size reduction

»A System Is Superior To Talent Marv Marshall
»What Writing Isn’t Cheryl Sigmon
»The Busy Educator's Monthly Five Marjan Glavac
»Privacy in a Technological Age Rob Reilly
»10 Tips for Difficult Parents Barbara & Sue Gruber
»Problem-Based Learning Hal Portner
»Understanding Autism Leah Davies

»Spaceship Toilets
»March 2008 Writing Prompts
»Internet Assisted Interactive Classroom
»Our Civility Footprint
»First Grade Family Reading Night Meets Speed Dating
»Your Students Are Watching, Listening, and Learning
»Teachers Lounge - To Go or Not to Go?
»Retirement Guide for Teachers
»Daily Lessons: Humility

»Chatboard Poll: So What About Homework?
»Teachers.Net Craft Favorite: Arrow to the Sun
»Featured Lessons: March 2008
»Video Bytes: Merit Pay; Tai Chi; Asperger's and More
»Today Is... Daily Commemoration for March 2008
»Live on Teachers.Net: March 2008
»The Lighter Side of Teaching
»Editor's Pick: Picturing America Program
»Apple Seeds: Inspiring Quotes for Teachers
»What Do You Want In A Co-Op Teacher?
»Newsdesk: Events & Opportunities for Teachers


The Teachers.Net Gazette is a collaborative project
published by the Teachers.Net community
Kathleen Alape Carpenter
Editor in Chief

Cover Story by LaVerne Hamlin

Effective Teaching by Harry & Rosemary Wong

Contributors this month: Dr. Marvin Marshall; Cheryl Sigmon; Barbara & Sue Gruber; Marjan Glavac; Dr. Rob Reilly; Barb S. HS/MI; Ron Victoria; Brian Hill; Leah Davies; Hal Portner; Tim Newlin; Barb Gilman; James Wayne; P.R. Guruprasad; Todd Nelson; Addies Gaines; Pat Hensley; Alan Haskvitz; Joy Jones; and YENDOR.

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Rob Reilly

Ed-Tech Talk
Archive | Biography | Resources | Discussion

Privacy in a Technological Age
by Dr. Rob Reilly
Regular contributor to the Gazette
March 1, 2008
More and more we are seeing that commercial Web sites are posting clickable privacy policy. I wonder how many people actually read them; I wonder how many people understand what 'privacy' is intended to be. I also wonder if the commercial enterprises actually abide by their privacy statements, I wonder if we'd even be aware of a privacy violation if it bite us in the touhus! It seems that no one really has a sound understanding of privacy as it now relates to the Internet and the Web---for example, how it relates to technology's ability to keep records of people who visit a given Web site, to delve into our personal information, or to eavesdrop on us in the workplace. Bick notes that "despite the importance attributed to privacy by the general public, a unified set of Internet privacy rights has yet to emerge."1

Let me step back in time and review the evolution of our concept of privacy. Privacy is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution but over the years courts have noted its presence and privacy has thus evolved. The concept of 'privacy' first came to our national attention via a Harvard Law Review article written by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in 18902 entitled The Right to Privacy, which essentially described the right to privacy as "the right to be let alone."3 This article has become the seminal document from which 'privacy' has flowed. According to Shapiro, The Right to Privacy is the most cited law review article.4

Warren and Brandeis touch upon principles that are being revisited today in regard to rights on computer networks. When Warren and Brandeis pondered the issues of their day, the same legal tenets applied. In 1960, William L. Prosser strengthened Brandeis and Warren's theory by publishing an article5 in the California Law Review tracing more than 300 cases germane to the evolution of the right to privacy.6 The influence of the works of Warren and Brandeis, and Prosser, contributed greatly to the recognition of that which we view as our 'right of privacy'---a right to seclude ourselves from the public.

In their day Warren and Brandeis were confronted with similar issues---expanding the understanding needed to craft/broaden statutes to accommodate new technology. Today, just as Warren and Brandeis did, we are dealing with technology that is moving beyond the current scope and understanding of existing statutes. It is therefore quite important to revisit this seminal law review article and follow Warren and Brandeis's lines of reasoning so that we may apply their thinking to today's quandaries and dilemmas.

When our nation began, the law provided legal remedy only for actual "physical interference with life and property, for trespasses."7 Warren and Brandeis believed that the concept that the "individual [should] have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law."8 They also state that it is necessary "from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection."9 Warren and Brandeis were attempting to lay a foundation to allow the existing legal philosophy to grow to accommodate changing circumstances.

The Right to Privacy of the Modern Day

The state and federal legislatures have attempted to deal with the issue of 'privacy' but there have been problems. Many of those problems flow from a lack of understanding of what 'privacy' was intended to do. So the problem in legislating policy is to define and protect privacy and that it is difficult because it is difficult to conceptualize privacy.

Authors of philosophical and legal works about privacy emphasize that their subject is difficult to define.10 Alan Westin's book Privacy and Freedom begins: "Few values so fundamental to society as privacy have been left so undefined in social theory or have been the subject of such vague and confused writing by social scientists."11 Judith Jarvis Thompson's article The Right to Privacy opens: "Perhaps the most striking thing about the right to privacy is that nobody seems to have any very clear idea what it is."12 Similarly, C. Herman Pritchett, in his forward to David O' Brien's book Privacy, Law, and Public Policy states: "Privacy is a confusing and complicated idea."13 "These difficulties in conceptualizing privacy not only are of philosophical importance but also have profound implications for the formulation of public policy to protect privacy."14 In the American tradition, there are "two types of rights---civil liberties and civil rights. Privacy is defined as a civil liberty---a right to be free of outside interference,"15 or as Berlin terms it, a "negative liberty."16 Vincent Samar also makes the point that "legal privacy is a species of negative freedom"17---if you have 'privacy' then you have a self-imposed state of seclusion---the opposite of 'privacy.' If you have 'privacy' then you are removed from the public---some may argue that 'privacy' is the opposite of 'freedom'---if you're in one state you can't be in the other.

Defining a problem in terms of rights has been a potential resource for many issues - civil rights, women's rights, rights of the disabled. But these issues involve rights to some benefit of status and are defined not in terms of an atomistic individual but an individual as a member of a group.18 Because privacy is seen as an individual interest and choice, ambiguities about its meaning exist. It is assumed that different people define privacy differently. Tien notes that "[p]rivacy can be a huge can of worms ¼ analyzing it as a conceptual problem ¼ often becomes a mess of conflicting statements that everyone agrees on."19

Bruce Sterling states that: "Cyberspace demand[s] a new set of metaphors, rules and behaviors."20 The problem is that 'privacy' is not a legal issue, it's really a matter of civility. It's a matter of a person adhering to a social contract, which law does not encompass, let alone enforce. The law is too weak, by its nature, to be able to fully encompass matters of civility. We can't look to the law to create privacy protections that actually work. People respect our privacy and if they don't it's not a legal matter, it's a civility issue. So long as we believe that the law is the mechanism that will protect our 'privacy' we will be forever frustrated, dissatisfied, and disappointed. We must begin to view the concept of 'privacy' in another light. We cannot expect that companies will enforce their privacy policies, we must be aware that to insure our own 'privacy' we should assume the responsibility to safeguard our personal information from anyone we do not wish to have it. We must also assume that giving any information to entities on the Web will cause them to propagate to thousands of other places.

  1. Jonathan Bick, 101 Things You Nedd to Know About Internet Law, Three Rivers Press: New York, 2000.
  2. Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193, (1890).
  3. Warren and Brandeis at 193.
  4. Shaprio, Fred R. (1987). The most cited law review articles. Buffalo, NY: W. Hein Co.
  5. Dean Prosser, Privacy, 48 Cal. L. Rev. 383 (1960).
  6. William C. Bier. (1980). Privacy: A vanishing value? New York: Fordham Univ. Press, page 93.
  7. Warren and Brandeis at 193.
  8. Warren and Brandeis at 193.
  9. Warren and Brandeis at 193.
  10. Regan, page 3.
  11. Alan Westin. (1967). Privacy and freedom. New York: Anthenum Press, page 3.
  12. Judith Jarvis Thompson. (1995, Summer). The right to privacy. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 4(4), page 4.
  13. David M. O'Brien. (1979). Privacy, law, and public policy. New York: Praeger, page vii.
  14. Regan, page 4.
  15. Regan, page 5.
  16. Isaiah Berlin, Two concepts of liberty, in Four essays on liberty. (1969). London: Oxford University Press, page 118-172.
  17. Vincent Samar, (1993). The right to privacy: Gays, lesbians, and the constitution. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, page 53.
  18. Regan, page 4.
  19. Lee Tien (personal e-mail, March 17, 1996).
  20. Bruce Sterling. (1995). The hacker crackdown. New York: Bantam Books, page 208.

» More Gazette articles...

About Rob Reilly...

Dr. Rob Reilly is the computer education teacher at the Lanesborough Elementary School in Lanesborough, Massachusetts USA. He is also a Visiting Scientist at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is conducting NSF funded research in the area of affective computing, emotions and learning. He has been a Visiting Scientist at MIT's Center for Educational Computing Initiatives, a Post Doctoral Research Associate at the University of Massachusetts' Office of Information Technologies, and a Teaching Associate, at the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts. His email address is: His Web site is:

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