May 212012

If you thought your privacy didn’t mean much to businesses, wait until you hear what a court thinks it’s worth.

Today was the sentencing hearing for Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers student who was convicted of invading Tyler Clementi’s privacy via web cam and then letting others know via tweets.  Clementi was humiliated and a few days later, committed suicide. Ravi was not charged with causing Clementi’s death, but the elephant in the room throughout the entire trial was that if Ravi had not done what he did, Clementi would not have killed himself.

There may be more to that part of the story than came out in court, however, as today, both the defense counsel and Ravi’s father alluded to non-public information that would presumably call into question any causal relationship between Ravi’s actions and Clementi’s suicide.

In any event, the sentencing was to be for the counts on which Ravi was convicted, which included invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, and attempting to destroy evidence and tamper with witnesses to cover up the crimes.

So what’s all that worth in terms of serious jail time? Well it seems that:

If you criminally invade someone’s privacy – and even attempt to do it again…. and

If you’re found guilty of invasion of privacy… and

If you not only invade privacy but broadcast what you’ve learned to others…. and

If the person whose privacy you invaded is in a protected class and you are convicted of a bias crime… and

If you lie to prosecutors and attempt to cover up your crime….

Then you get 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service, and a $10,000 fine to be used to assist victims of bias crimes.

So if we extrapolate from Judge Berman’s sentence today, you can commit a whole bunch of crimes and the grand total of jail time will be 30 days.  Note that you could have gotten up to 10 years and possible deportation.

In explaining himself, Judge Berman didn’t even spend that much time discussing the privacy invasion aspect.  He focused more on the bias aspect, the attempt to cover up the crime, and Dharun Ravi’s failure to offer satisfactory apologies to the people who were hurt by his actions. .

Indeed, the judge’s lack of emphasis on privacy may have led Danielle Citron to claim that

 For his conviction on witness- and evidence-tampering and lying to the police, Ravi will serve 30 days in jail.  For the hate crimes charge and sentence enhancement, Ravi was sentenced to three years’ probation, 300 hours of community service, counseling on cyber bullying and alternative lifestyles, and payment of $11,000 to a group that helps victims of bias crimes.

In her entire blog post on the sentencing, Danielle didn’t mention privacy once.  And that’s somewhat understandable because Judge Berman did not seem to focus on it, either.

Judge Berman had a chance to send a strong message about privacy. And if he wanted to temper justice with mercy, he could have sentenced Ravi to taking a course on privacy and not just one on cyberbullying or bias. His failure to fully address the implications of privacy violations was disappointing, to say the least.

What a shame privacy was the poor cousin in the court today.

  2 Responses to “Our privacy may be worth more to Facebook than the courts”

  1. Danielle mentions privacy in her blog post.

    • She mentions it parenthetically in discussing online harassment in general. There’s no reference to it in the first paragraph where she reports on the sentencing in this case. And I do understand that omission because other than calling Ravi’s actions “colossally insensitive” and referring to “trust,” Judge Berman really did not address the privacy invasion aspect specifically in explaining his sentencing.

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