Privacy is a fundamental human right that allows us to be our true selves. It’s what allows us to be weirdos without shame. It allows us to have dissenting opinions without consequence. And, ultimately, it’s what allows us to be free. This is why many nations have strict laws concerning privacy. However, in spite of this common understanding, privacy on the Internet is one of the least understood and poorly defined topics to date because it spans a vast array of issues, taking shape in many different forms, which makes it incredibly difficult to identify and discuss. However, I’d like to try to resolve this ambiguity.

In the United States, it is a federal offense to open someone’s mail. This is considered a criminal breach of privacy that could land someone in prison for up to five years. Metaphorically speaking, each piece of data we create on the Internet — whether photo, video, text, or something else — can be thought of as parcel of mail. However, unlike opening our mail in real life, Internet companies can legally open every piece of mail that gets delivered through their system without legal consequence. Moreover, they can make copies of it as well. What these companies are doing would be comparable to someone opening our mail, copying it at Kinkos, then storing it in a file cabinet with our name on it and sharing it with anyone willing to pay for it. Want to open that file cabinet or delete some of the copies? Too bad. Our mail is currently considered their property, and we have almost no control over how it gets used.