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Friday, July 04, 2008

Did you say e-privacy...?

As part of the discovery process in Viacom's billion-dollar copyright-infringement suit against Google's YouTube, U.S. District Court Judge Louis L. Stanton on Wednesday ordered the search sovereign to hand over every record of every video watched by YouTube visitors, including user names and IP addresses --.terabyte upon terabyte of data. Viacom contends it needs the information to demonstrate how YouTube enjoys the fruits of illegally posted video clips. Google's argument that such a release would represent a massive violation of user privacy was waved away by the judge. "Defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative," Stanton wrote in his opinion. The judge also pooh-poohed the idea that the logging data was sufficient to be personally identifiable, despite examples to the contrary.

This decision, says the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seems to fly in the face of the Video Privacy Protection Act, which applies, quaintly but sufficiently broadly, to "prerecorded video cassette tapes or similar audio visual materials" and strictly limits disclosure of "information which identifies a person as having requested or obtained specific video materials or services." "The Court's erroneous ruling is a setback to privacy rights, and will allow Viacom to see what you are watching on YouTube," the EFF concluded. "We urge Viacom to back off this overbroad request and Google to take all steps necessary to challenge this order and protect the rights of its users.
Unless you take special and inconvenient precautions, you leave a clear set of footprints as you travel through the digital world. Between your charges and debits, your cell phone and your GPS, your messaging and your browsing, a set of data points emerge that, if viewed from the right height, can chart your interests, your activities and your path like you were little Billy in "Family Circus." Most of us deal with this exposure the same way we deal with other uncomfortable realities -- shrug and apply some combination of trust, faith and hope that we won't get hurt. But like the occasional temblors that remind us here that we're living in earthquake country, news comes along periodically to remind us that our privacy is also on very shaky ground.

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