It has been a while since I’ve talked about issues of digital identity, but technological advances also present us with the possibility that our analog identities will be captured and shared with the world. Some, like Anthony Weiner, find their private communications are being spread far beyond their intended targets, but I am more interested in public behaviors. The question of whether public behaviors can be recorded by researchers without consent has long been a part of methodological debates, but today this goes far beyond whether somebody will describe our behaviors in seldom-read books or journal articles.
The Society Pages recently asked whether Americans have the right to conduct citizen surveillance, such as recording conversations with police officers during traffic stops (and then risking injury to highlight the problems with the officer’s directions). The police officer, though, was aware that he was being recorded. Others are unaware that their behaviors will be shared with the world. In the case of Hermon Raju, a “well-educated” NYU grad, or Cathy Cruz Marrero, who fell into a fountain while texting, momentary lapses can lead to internet infamy.
If I attend a public concert, the songs remain the intellectual property of the band. My limited knowledge of copyright law suggests that I may be allowed to record this concert for personal use but I cannot sell it and while I might post it on YouTube the band has the ability to have it taken down. While this works for some copyright owners, to my knowledge the issue of whether an individual’s public behaviors are effectively intellectual property has not been addressed in a way that reflects the realities of our digital world.