Reputational Privacy and the Internet: A Matter for Law?
Kirley, Elizabeth Anne
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Reputation - we all have one. We do not completely comprehend its workings and are mostly unaware of its import until it is gone. When we lose it, our traditional laws of defamation, privacy, and breach of confidence rarely deliver the vindication and respite we seek due, primarily, to legal systems that cobble new media methods of personal injury onto pre-Internet laws. This dissertation conducts an exploratory study of the relevance of law to loss of individual reputation perpetuated on the Internet. It deals with three interrelated concepts: reputation, privacy, and memory. They are related in that the increasing lack of privacy involved in our online activities has had particularly powerful reputational effects, heightened by the Internet’s duplicative memory. The study is framed within three research questions: 1) how well do existing legal mechanisms address loss of reputation and informational privacy in the new media environment; 2) can new legal or extra-legal solutions fill any gaps; and 3) how is the role of law pertaining to reputation affected by the human-computer interoperability emerging as the Internet of Things? Through a review of international and domestic legislation, case law, and policy initiatives, this dissertation explores the extent of control held by the individual over her reputational privacy. Two emerging regulatory models are studied for improvements they offer over current legal responses: the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, and American Do Not Track policies. Underscoring this inquiry are the challenges posed by the Internet’s unique architecture and the fact that the trove of references to reputation in international treaties is not making its way into domestic jurisprudence or daily life. This dissertation examines whether online communications might be developing a new form of digital speech requiring new legal responses and new gradients of personal harm; it also proposes extra-legal solutions to the paradox that our reputational needs demand an overt sociality while our desire for privacy has us shunning the limelight. As we embark on the Web 3.0 era of human-machine interoperability and the Internet of Things, our expectations of the role of law become increasingly important.