With the Digital Revolution, We Need to Rethink Privacy

The Miranda rights need to be rewritten for the 21st century:

You have the right to say whatever you want to say.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion, especially if it's recorded and posted on the Internet. 

Candy Tistadt, wife of the chief operating officer for the Fairfax County school system in Virginia, can vouch for this.  Her minute-long rant to Devraj “Dave” Kori, a high school senior, made national headlines after Kori posted it on Facebook and YouTube.

Kori, phoned the private residence of Dean and Candy Tistadt, to question Dean's decision to keep the schools open after three inches of snow fell in the area.   

In her message, Candy referred to students as “snotty-nosed little brats” and told Kori “How dare you call us at home!  If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody's house and complain about it.” 

Was Kori out of line for calling Dean Tistadt at home?  Perhaps.  Was Candy's heated response out of line?  Definitely.  But this case raises some interesting points.

So why has this incident become a national story?  First, it shows the impact of the New Media and the rapidity with which ideas and stories are spread.  Second, it touches on the tension between the public's right to redress a grievance and the privacy rights of individuals.  Third, the question of manners.  Just where does the decency line get crossed, and who crossed it?  Who you're rooting for in this battle says a lot about your values and, perhaps, the generation you come from. 

Older Americans may not realize that the teens see YouTube and Facebook as their form of journaling, an electronic diary if you will, and what was once considered private can now be quite public. 

But what about the expectation of privacy?  Is it too much to require that communication remain between the people for whom it was intended?  Kori can write whatever he wants about himself on Facebook, but does he have the right to expose Tistadt's private communication to the universe?

Cell phone cameras and other small recording devices can easily record any number of events without the participants even knowing until they appear on YouTube or national news outlets.  Taken without context, images and messages are easily misconstrued.

This is especially true of cases in which one party is seeking revenge on the other.  Tistadt's message played over 44,000 times after Kori posted it on YouTube.    Kori told NBC that “some people think I just wanted my 15 minutes. I couldn't possibly imagine it would get this big.”  However, the Washington Post reported that Kori posted the message on his Facebook profile along with Dean Tistadt's home and office phone numbers, encouraging others to call him as well.   

Some folks might say the Fairfax County police should read Kori the original Miranda rights – but it'll never happen.  Fairfax would be overrun by a Facebook-inspired insurrection.

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.