For Facebook Generation, Privacy Still Important

A Project by American University Students
Thursday, November 29, 2007 9:21 AM

Last August, the daughter of Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani found out just how easy it is for the media spotlight to shine on someone's personal life. As one of more than 50 million users of the social networking Web site Facebook, Caroline Giuliani posted on her profile that her political views were liberal and joined a Facebook group entitled "Barack Obama (One Million Strong for Barack)." Media outlets all over the country picked up the story and soon, screen captions of her Facebook profile were running as part of the media coverage.

Like many in her generation, Caroline Giuliani learned a lesson about the ramifications of putting personal information online and the risk of that information being disseminated to the public at large. But for a generation that is seemingly comfortable with posting very personal information online, students interviewed by the Politics and the Media class at American University were overwhelmingly concerned about increased surveillance by the federal government.

Of the 94 respondents, a narrow majority opposed two measures of increased government surveillance -- law enforcement monitoring of Internet chat rooms (62.8 percent) and expanded monitoring of cell phones and e-mail (73.4 percent). Forty-five percent of the students surveyed opposed the creation of a national identification system for U.S. citizens, compared with 36 percent who were in favor of the system. Forty-six percent of students surveyed opposed expanded camera surveillance in public places. Clear majorities opposed law enforcement monitoring Internet discussions in chat rooms and other forums (63 percent) and the expanded government monitoring of cell phones and e-mail to intercept communications (73 percent).

The students were concerned about national security and reflected those concerns by favoring surveillance techniques that appear most closely tied to security issues and stopping potential terrorism. A narrow majority favored stronger document and physical security checks for travelers (54 percent). Nearly half (49 percent) supported expanded undercover activities to penetrate groups under suspicion, while 50 percent supported closer monitoring of banking and credit-card transfers to trace funding sources. This series of questions was drawn from a Harris Poll on national security versus privacy.

The respondents' concern about invasions of privacy by the government struck some respondents as contradicting the openness with which may college students live their life, lives that include posting pictures and personal information on networking Web sites such as Facebook and MySpace, as well as making public their actions and feelings via personal blogs.

"I don't see how you can in one instance, put private information up on line for public display and in another instance, say that people shouldn't be allowed to look at it," said Boston University senior Robert Garofano.

A senior from Point Loma Nazarene University said the bottom line for students is if they are so concerned about privacy, then they should be much more stringent about what they post online.

"It is definitely a contradiction. Government officials are online all of the time and so are employers. It would be silly to assume that you can put information online that will not eventually be revealed to these people," she said. "If you want privacy, you should keep your personal life offline."

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