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Technology, Privacy, Crime & Civil Liberties

Should internet privacy be limited?
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 02/29/2016 at 10:59 AM EDT

A very grok-worthy story came up in my newsfeed and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It happened in England. Two guys – brothers- were before a judge on charges of dealing marijuana. The judge, Beverly Lunt, decided to be lenient – not to give them a sentence because they seemed remorseful and appropriately headed towards ‘changing their ways,’ as it were. She could have handed down a two-year prison sentence, but she let them go instead.

Sounds fine to me. However…forty minutes later, one of the brothers posted on his personal Facebook pages the following:

“Beverly Lunt go suck my dick. Cannot believe my luck 2 year suspended sentence beats the 3 year jail yes pal!’

The other brother responded with:

“Bet we wouldn’t get a chance like this agen [sic], thumbs up.”

This, to me, is juvenile and disgusting, not to mention misogynistic and disrespectful. It’s not a classy or smart move. At. All.

Turns out this got brought to the judge’s attention. She called them back in. She said that given their statements on Facebook, she felt they were, in fact, not remorseful and she sentenced them both to two years.


It’s kind of an unbelievable story. What’s getting me, though, is the following: Is this a violation of their civil liberties? Should they be able to do whatever they want on their Facebook pages, even if it means saying mean things about the judge or celebrating the fact that they were set free?

As someone who champions civil liberties and has been following the Apple/San Bernardino shooter phone unlocking case (see here for a letter from Apple “to our customers,” explaining why they’re resisting providing the FBI with what they want), I really want to understand better when our use of technology goes from being an outlet for our personal expression (in which case we may have an expectation of greater privacy) to being a tool that can be used to protect society (at the expense of the privacy we hold so dear). While this case is not the same as the Apple situation – and the laws regarding privacy probably differ from country to country – both bring to mind general questions about internet privacy rights and the expectations we have about things we share online…

What if these two brothers were, in fact, legitimately remorseful in court, and in their gleeful disbelief that they were released, had a few beers (not an excuse for stupidity, but I’m just setting the stage in my mind) and decided to be stupid on Facebook? Haven’t we all said silly or juvenile things on Facebook – especially if you’re old enough to drink and have had a few beers!? Have you ever teased someone or spoken ill of someone on Facebook in a fit of bad judgment which you later regretted? Most of us have, and it doesn’t always take alcohol to do so.

I can’t decide if I believe that personal Facebook accounts can and should be used to do what this judge did. And by “I can’t decide,” I mean, I really can’t decide.

What do you think?

Grok With Us:

  • Do you think these brothers were treated fairly?
  • In the San Bernardino case, what would you do:
    • Respect the privacy expectations of your clients?
    • Or violate that privacy expectation because it might aid a terrorism investigation?
  • Is there anything to be said for absolute privacy, inviolable no matter what?
  • What about if there is suspicion that the things being said in a private space threaten people or are racist or violent in nature?
  • Should there be limits to what we can and can’t say on Facebook? Is anything we say potentially subject to repercussions?
  • Will awareness and discussion of this subject change your behavior on social media? If so, how?
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