10 Apr

Data Detritus

In most instances of online navigation, we retain a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Yet it is clear that every move, every written thought, conversation, or search string, is transformed into data and stored somewhere.  In essence, every thing we do is transformed into data detritus.  We leave data traces behind.  Traces that we expect will be discarded or ignored. 

Data detritus is trash.  And people often have reasonable expectations of privacy when it comes to their trash.  If we put a bag out on the curb, we expect that no one will search through it.  The U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Greenwood, 486 U.S. 35 (1988), however, ruled that the police may legally search through your trash.  This ruling has not sat easily with many people.  Five states, including California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington and Vermont, have provided their citizens with higher levels of privacy as it pertains to trash. 

The question is: should people have expectations of privacy when it comes to their perpetually discarded data?  Are we essentially bundling up our information and tossing it out on the curb to be disposed of?  I would say, yes.  People suspect that their data is private?   Even if it’s voluntarily manufactured in a seemingly "public" place.  Because the concepts of "volunteer" and  "public" are not clear in  many digital contexts, the privacy of trash needs to be reconsidered.

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