Legal Restrictions Won't Help Ensure Privacy Online

Legal Restrictions Won't Help Ensure Privacy Online

July 27, 2009
Originally published in The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Lost in the Cloud” (Op-Ed, July 20):

In discussing the privacy risks that have accompanied the growth of the Internet, Prof. Jonathan Zittrain rightly bemoans the willingness of governments to violate individuals’ privacy rights. Unfortunately, he proposes new legal restrictions that would stifle online innovation while doing little to enhance consumer privacy.

Mr. Zittrain proposes a “fair practices law” that would require companies to release personal data back to users upon request. Such a rule may sound workable, but purging specific data across globally dispersed server farms is no simple endeavor. Who is to pay for the implementation of such privacy procedures — especially for free services like Facebook or Twitter that have yet to turn a profit?

A better approach to online privacy is to educate users on safeguarding personal information. Ultimately, however, the only foolproof approach to protecting sensitive data online is to simply not disclose it.