The Death of Privacy

For Sen. George Allen, some Los Angeles police officers, and Britney Spears, being caught on tape this year was bad news.

But they're celebrities or public officials. What about you? What about your privacy?

I was shocked to get my issue of Reason magazine showing a picture of my office on the cover. Reason did this for every subscriber to show how easy it is, with readily available satellite technology on the Internet, to invade our privacy. Cameras on Earth are even more intrusive. They're everywhere now.

I visited Wilmington, Del., where police officials were proud to show me how they used cameras to spy on people in their town. They say this has reduced crime, but it's also reduced our privacy. But what's new today is what can happen to the video.

Thanks to YouTube and a dozen other Web sites such as Myspace and Facebook, the images can spread, invading your privacy further.

CNN anchor Kyra Phillips went to the bathroom during a presidential speech, forgetting that she still wore her microphone. Mixed in with the president's words, CNN viewers learned what she really thought about her brother and his wife.

"Oh, yeah. He's married, three kids, but his wife is just a control freak," Phillips said.

Her family might never have known about it, but because people post so quickly on the Web these days, her mistake has been viewed by nearly a million people. She even went on the "Late Show With David Letterman" to make fun of herself.

"Like you've never gone to the bathroom and had it broadcast on national television?" she joked while doing the show's "Top Ten" list.

On the Web, the mistake will live on permanently -- and so might yours.

For example, if you sing to yourself, badly, and your little cousin puts it on YouTube, your mistake will be easily searchable. Type in nose picking and there are 40 pages, and almost as many for singing in the shower.

Big Brother's Not the Only One Watching

Your privacy is basically blown. That's why the media run scare stories warning of Big Brother and Web attacks.

Aleksey Vayner wants to warn you about another risk. The Yale student applied for Wall Street jobs by sending out a link to his video resume with his traditional resume, thinking it would help him stand out from all the other applicants.

But the seven-minute video included boastful statements, showing him lifting heavy weights, karate-chopping a stack of bricks, and dancing. He sent the video to half a dozen banks, and someone at one of them forwarded it and his personal information to someone who put it on the Web.

Within days, he started getting e-mails about it.

"What I see is these huge chains of messages that have been forwarded to each other," he said.

Today, a million people may have seen it. He's been mocked on news programs and on the Web. The exposure has, he says, ruined his life.

"All of my private information is on the Internet," he said. "I receive hundreds of harassing messages. … I have to change telephone numbers. I have to get new e-mail addresses. … I have to change bank accounts."

He complained to YouTube, which promptly removed his video, but then someone else posted it. … Again and again. People at his college even dressed up as him for Halloween.

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