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The world is becoming a smaller place as we become tied togetherelectronically in practically every aspect of our lives. Personal privacy –the protective space between our inner selves and others — erodes away inthe process. While we recognize that certain activities, such as makingpurchases on the Internet, may cause some of our personal information likecredit card numbers to be revealed, we are coming to learn that our privacyis being invaded in ways that we did not previously expect. Does the lawoffer adequate protection in this brave new world? Not yet. TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT A recent survey by the American Management Association reveals thatapproximately 78 percent of U.S. companies monitor their employees’ phone calls,e-mails, Internet access, computer files or conduct through videosurveillance. Of the more than 1,600 large to mid-sized companies surveyed,63 percent monitor employee Internet use, 47 percent store and review employee e-mails, 15 percentwatch employees by video, 12 percent record and review telephone messages, and 8 percent review voice-mail messages. All of this is happening while Internet surfers are learning about “cookies” — computer files sent to and stored on user hard drives that allow Web sites to know which computer they are dealing with, and “online profiling” — the ability of Web sites to track particular user movements online. While there are some valid reasons for employers to monitor employees forproductivity and other purposes, and while Web sites should, under certaincircumstances, have the ability to know who they are dealing with, thereare growing concerns about a total collapse of any semblance of privacy andanonymity in the electronic age. WHAT’S LAW GOT TO DO WITH IT? The law is struggling to keep up with the rapid advance of technology, andas of this writing, the law has a long way to go. We still do not have a comprehensive federal law in place that addressesprivacy issues in this country. Many people wrongly believe that the U.S.Constitution provides broad privacy protections across the board. Instead,the Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizuresby the federal government, and safeguards (at least currently) certaininherent privacy rights from government intrusion, such as a woman’s rightto choose whether to give birth or not. Several sectoral privacy statutes have been enacted at the federal level.For example, the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) requiresparental consent before identifying personal information can be obtainedfrom children under the age of 13. As another example, theGramm-Leach-Bliley Act affords some privacy rights in the banking context. More needs to be accomplished. Indeed, based on the inability of thefederal government to get the job done, to date there have been more than465 privacy-related bills introduced in 46 states, according to the President and CEO of the Direct Marketing Association. Moreover, private parties and state attorneys general have been getting creative in filing civil lawsuits relating to perceived privacy violations. Still, some of the noteworthy cases against the likes of DoubleClick, RealNetworks, and Amazon.com have not yielded big results, at least as of yet. PARTING SHOT At least privacy is in the headlines and on the legislative and legal agendas. Lawyers are a creative bunch, and we an expect that the law will begin to evolve more rapidly in this area. But for now, be careful out there. Don’t believe the popular expression and cartoon of several years ago, “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” Indeed, on the Internet, someone may be able to figure out exactly which dog you are. Eric J. Sinrod is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris, where he focuses on technology and litigation matters. His Web site is sinrodlaw.com and his firm’s site is Duane Morris.

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