Virtually Public

Ars Technica discusses today the recent judge decision requiring a Bittorrent piracy site to enable server logs and turn them over to the MPAA upon request. Privacy activists are warning that the ruling sets a dangerous precedent. One quote from Fred von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation stands out in particular:

“A court would never think to force a company to record telephone calls, transcribe employee conversations, or log other ephemeral information. There is no reason why the rules should be different simply because a company uses digital technologies.”

A court may not think so because it would be unduly burdensome on the company to make such records. As technology improves, however, this burden may be lessened until a company could reasonable honor such requests. Recording RAM data is possible today, if still expensive and intensive. The judge in this particular ruling may have determined that enabling and storing these logs was not unduly burdensome.

Technology for recording and transcribing telephone calls and other “epemeral information” has already or will soon come down in complexity and price. When that happens, then all companies may someday be required to record all activity that occurs. Imagine a world where the only walled garden is your own home, if you own your own home. All other places would be public or semi-public, with life itself recorded in increasing detail.

Is this something to fear? If you work for an employer, their place of business belongs to them, not to you. They are free to record anything that you do there. A street corner is a public location, increasingly protected by surveillance technology. Public schools and libraries, coffee shops and restaurants, public transportation; these are all locations where you have little or no privacy.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).