Do new digital privacy laws provide enough protection for women? | The Tylt
Do new digital privacy laws provide enough protection for women?
Emily Chang writes in an April 2019 op-ed for the New York Times' "Privacy Project" that women are currently woefully unprotected by standing laws. Chang acknowledges laws are changing for the better, but she points out that issues pertaining to women's safety online are frequently ignored.
California’s new privacy law is a case in point: It is a bold piece of legislation, but it falls short for women. In the event of a data breach, for example, consumers in California will have the right to sue if certain kinds of personally identifying information, like Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers, are compromised. But that may not include material like intimate emails or explicit photos. The current iteration of the law is so murky that it’s not clear whether Jennifer Lawrence, the actress whose nude photos were stolen from her iCloud account in 2014 and made public, would have a case against Apple if a similar incident occurred after the law goes into effect next year.
California’s “right to be forgotten” also doesn’t go as far as Europe’s new privacy legislation, the most sweeping data reform in history. Under the California law, consumers have the right to delete information they personally provide to companies. But if someone else — say, an unhappy ex — posted something about me online, I would not be able to get that taken down. Under Europe’s new law, though, I would at least be able to request such a post be removed.
A July 2017 Pew survey on online harassment shows women and men experience such encounters in dramatically different ways.
[W]omen – and especially young women – encounter sexualized forms of abuse at much higher rates than men. Some 21% of women ages 18 to 29 report being sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double the share among men in the same age group (9%). In addition, roughly half (53%) of young women ages 18 to 29 say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for. For many women, online harassment leaves a strong impression: 35% of women who have experienced any type of online harassment describe their most recent incident as either extremely or very upsetting, about twice the share among men (16%).
...[H]alf of women say offensive content online is too often excused as not being a big deal, whereas 64% of men – and 73% of young men ages 18 to 29 – say that many people take offensive content online too seriously. Further, 70% of women – and 83% of young women ages 18 to 29 – view online harassment as a major problem, while 54% of men and 55% of young men share this concern.
Sexual harassment in myriad forms is already criminalized offline. Proponents of stronger protections argue similar laws should safeguard women online.
Marlisse Silver Sweeney wrote in a November 2014 piece for the Atlantic that, along with updating laws, reform is needed in how police handle online harassment.
[I]t’s not always the lack of legal precedents that’s at issue—it’s also gaps in police-force education. In her research, Citron said she has found that many police agencies aren’t allocating resources to fighting this type of crime. Often victims who go to the police are told it’s a civil matter, not a criminal one, when there are indeed criminal laws in place to stop the harassment. Many police forces “just don’t have the training,” Citron said. “We can do better on that.”
This is why the question, “Why didn’t she just go to the police?” is often a bad one—one that ignores the reality of what the authorities are willing to do for victims. Take the case of feminist blogger Rebecca Watson. Watson writes that in 2012, she came across a website of a man who was writing about murdering her. After some research, she tracked down his real name and location (which was within a three-hour drive of her home). She called the police department in that jurisdiction, her own, and the FBI, but after some initial questions, she said the authorities didn’t seem to care. “I’ve lived in several different cities…and received several frightening threats, and never have I met a single helpful cop who even made an attempt to help me feel safe,” she writes. Amanda Hess keeps a running file of people who make online death threats against her, she explains in her oft-cited article, "Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet." The first time she filed a report about a man threatening to murder her, the police officer asked her, “Why would anyone bother to do something like that?” and decided not to file a report.
Many worry about the unintended consequence of cracking down on tech companies. Kara Swisher argues in a New York Times op-ed that too many protections will stymy innovation and punish start-ups.
Europe has put in place strict laws like the General Data Protection Regulation of 2018, the most significant change in privacy law in decades. It gives a lot of power to individuals over how their personal data is collected and used, and is much more punitive when it comes to data breaches.
There are also ePrivacy rules there that govern how people can be targeted by advertisers. Some regulations, like the exceedingly complex “right to be forgotten,” would slam right into free speech laws here in the United States. This week, for example, Britain proposed creating a far-reaching regulator to punish tech companies, including their individual executives, for damaging content on their platforms.
Europe’s message to big tech is increasingly clear: You made this mess, so you clean it up, or else.
This punitive and suspicious sentiment had already jumped the Atlantic — all the way across to the Pacific — with California passing its Consumer Privacy Act last year. Less stringent than the General Data Protection Regulation (and criticized by some for being too soft), it makes California-based companies follow stronger data protection rules, including giving the state’s consumers more insight and power over how their data is used and imposing fines when tech platforms don’t comply. The law will go into effect in 2020, and there may be further additions to it.