In 2007 prosecutors in Anchorage Alaska accused 34 year old stripper Mechele Linehan of plotting a murder based on the 1994 movie "The Last Seduction". Life so closely imitated art, said prosecutors, that they even tried to have the movie played for the jury.
In 2008 a teenager confessed that he was trying to imitate scenes from the video game "Grand Theft Auto" when he robbed a murdered a taxicab driver in Bangkok Thailand. Movies like "The Deer Hunter" (1978) are even believed to have inspired several "copycat" suicides in the late 1970's and early 80's.
All of this may seem like fodder for censorship advocates, but that debate has largely come and gone in favor preserving the First Amendment's right to free speech. Wise as the framers of the U.S. Constitution may have been, few would accuse them of being clairvoyant. After all, who could have predicted the impact the Internet would some day have on both the precept of free speech and the concept of privacy?
Though many speak of the "right to privacy", it is not, at least as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, a right at all. It is, nonetheless, an ethos that has long been coveted by Americans, and is implicit in the Fourth Amendment's:
...right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures...
Of course, mention the term "search" to most people today, and it's far more likely to conjure thoughts of friends lists", home pages and e-books, than actual people, houses and papers. And while, in just the past few years, popular culture has come to embrace the sharing of intimate, private and personal details with virtual strangers, the desire to remain "secure" seems to be very much alive in the 21st Century. In fact, more than any other, the Fourth Amendment has played a central, albeit contested, role in the litigation of hi-tech criminal evidence.
I know what you watched last summer...
So, what does all this have to do with your Netflix queue? Though Americans, and many other people around the world, may be willing to voluntarily divulge personal information, either in trade for modern conveniences and services, or increasingly, for a sense of online significance, we're not quite as enthusiastic when it's taken from us and shared without any tangible return. It's no longer a secret that the monetary value of data has been pre-calculated into the return on investment (ROI) of so many of today's business models, but consumers still tend to expect a certain level of security. In recent years the bar has been set pretty low. Still, it may surprise many to learn that "anonymous" usage data can be deciphered into personally-identifiable intelligence, as proven by a pair of researchers at the University of Texas using what was thought to be anonymous user data provided to contestants in the three-year $1 million "Netflix Prize" to improve the site's recommendation results.
The UT's results brought both unwanted attention from the Federal Trade Commission and a lawsuit from a private firm, resulting in Netflix's decision last week to cancel a planned sequel to the prize awarded last year.
It's no longer extraordinary to see similar data exploited in the process of investigating crimes either. Certainly the viewing interests and habits of the individuals mentioned above have been considered relevant discovery by law enforcement. In these cases, there's little, if anything, to decipher. Anything that Netflix knows about you, your account, and your viewing habits, is subject to a warrant, and, with or without much imagination, could be incriminating. How many of us haven't seen a good fictional car case, a well-written murder plot, a scripted street-fight, or a perfectly executed crime? The consumption of such fiction could be hazardous to your defense, if it proceeds similar accusations.
Similar Blog & News Articles
- Laptop Spying and the Fourth Amendment :: Technology Liberation Front
- NetFlix Cancels Recommendation Contest After Privacy Lawsuit :: Wired: Threat Level
Similar Wikipedia Articles
About Jeff M. Fischbachhttp://www.twitter.com/FischTech Jeff Michael Fischbach is founder and President of SecondWave Information Systems (SecondWave.com), a consulting firm specializing in Forensic Technology. Since 1994, he has served as a board member and technology adviser to numerous professional organizations and corporations. Mr. Fischbach has been engaged as a litigation consultant and Forensic Examiner, offering expert advice and oversight on matters involving intellectual property, computers, information systems, satellite, tracking and wireless communications technologies. He has advised law enforcement, foreign government representatives, judges, lawyers and the press.
Register For This Site
Join the conversation...