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’80s-themed ACLU party raises privacy law awareness

As described in Rockwell’s 1984 one-hit wonder, many people may have that eerie feeling that “someone is always watching” them. Given it’s been more than 20 years since digital privacy laws have been updated, experts say they have a right to feel that way.

In order to raise awareness of this issue, the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona held an event Wednesday night to educate people on the ambiguity of current day online privacy laws.

The event was ‘80s themed — a playful idea meant to poke fun at how the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the law that protects people’s digital privacy, has not been updated since 1986.

The ACLU is questioning how laws that were created during the time of floppy disks and cassette tapes can still be used to protect people in the age of iPhones and Facebook.

The event was held at food and entertainment restaurant Gameworks at Tempe’s Arizona Mills. It featured video slideshows and decorations that displayed information about how people’s online information can be tracked.

Attendees, who were decked out in neon glasses and side ponytails, were also encouraged to fill out cards to send to their local legislators about updating privacy laws.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, the executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, said the event was held as an attempt to raise awareness about the need to protect personal information online.

“Technology has far outpaced privacy laws,” she said. “People’s information is at risk of being stored, sold and viewed by the government.”

She said there are currently no laws in place to protect a person’s information online. If a person shops online or posts information, the company that owns that website has a right to sell that information to other companies and to the government.

“For example, even though Facebook allows users to make their page private so others can’t view it, there are no laws preventing [Facebook] from selling the information to outside parties,” Soler Meetze said.

She pointed out that Facebook is a company that doesn’t protect its customers’ privacy and that Gmail recently stopped allowing Facebook to automatically import contacts from Gmail because they believe in protecting their clients.

According to Soler Meetze, the laws haven’t been updated because the government and private companies have embraced technology to the detriment of people’s privacy rights and that people aren’t aware enough to try to make a change.

“The government has an obligation to create laws that force companies to make customers aware of who can see their information,” Soler Meetze said.

She also believes that law enforcement should be required to get a warrant before being able to access personal information online.

Girard Kelly, a graduate student and the social media coordinator for ACLU of Arizona, said that law enforcement can sit outside a person’s house, access their WiFi without a warrant and not get charged with trespassing.

He said the laws need to change because law enforcement and the courts aren’t on the same page as far as what is legal and what isn’t.

“There are no clear definitions,” he said. “If the law was updated, there would no longer be a question about what is right and what is wrong.”

Event attendee Mike Cervantez, a computer systems engineering senior, said he doesn’t like the idea of the government being able to spy on his online use.

“I take it for granted that I’m anonymous online, but I guess I’m really not,” he said.

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