January 28 was International Data Privacy Day, which commemorates the 1981 signing of the European Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Automatic Processing of Personal Data. In North America, IDPD has been championed by the National Cyber Security Alliance, which is a non-profit organization sponsored by mega-corporations such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, PayPal, Symantec and McAfee. It is not surprising, therefore, that the emphasis in the North American observation of IDPD seems to have been on the purportedly valiant efforts by the Internet giants, such as Google, to hold U.S. government agencies to the basic constitutional requirement to have a search warrant or a court order prior to demanding the release of user data such as search history in connection with a criminal investigation. What is conspicuously missing in the descriptions of the observation of this evidently corporately sponsored day of commemoration of the 1981 Convention is what these Internet giants, particularly social media and search corporations, are doing concerning the fundamental problem of the lack of control that individuals have over the distribution of images and materials that constitute an erosion or invasion of their right of privacy.
The dichotomy between the enforceable right of control by owners over their intellectual property on one hand, and the virtual absence of a similar right of control by individuals over the distribution of images and materials which constitute an invasion of their right of privacy has been brought into stark relief by the tragic and senseless deaths by suicide of two young men in their twenties in the month of January. In the case of the extensive right of control of intellectual property, the death was that of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who as a result of his effort to make articles in academic journals freely available online was subjected to a ruthless, unrelenting and disproportionate criminal prosecution by the U.S. Justice Department. Faced with mounting legal bills and the prospect of lengthy imprisonment, Aaron took his own life on January 11, 2013. Several U.S. Congressmen have formally expressed their outrage at the bullying actions of the government.
In the case of the corresponding lack of control that individuals have over the distribution of images and materials that constitute an invasion of their right of privacy, the death was that of Aleksey Vayner on January 19, 2013. Aleksey was a Yale student who seems to have been a Walter Mitty on steroids who sent a bizarre video resume of himself to a Wall Street Investment firm in the hopes of landing a job there as a banker. The video, which contains improbable and ridiculous scenes of Aleksey bench-pressing 450 pounds, delivering 140 mph tennis serves, and breaking a stack of 7 bricks with his open palm, went viral on the Internet after the HR department of the investment firm breached the implied confidential relationship between job seekers and the companies to which they are applying. Aleksey had to go into hiding and change his name after being subject to public ridicule. Assuming that he has not somehow faked his own death (as he had faked his accomplishments), and assuming that his very existence is not a hoax (of which there is no evidence at present), then the death of the deceitful Aleksey represents the tragi-comic counterpart to the purely tragic death of the noble-minded Aaron. Although it may seem initially counter-intuitive to mention them in the same sentence, they are connected by the issue of control of information - in the case of Aleksey, not enough by the persons whose privacy is invaded by it, and in the case of Aaron, too much by the owners of it.