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Freedom of Expression Comes with Greater Responsibility in Today’s World

by Erick Rommel

Nothing we do is private. In a world where our every movement is tracked, it’s best to assume that anything we do can be known by anybody at the touch of a button.

Recently, many have expressed concern about the news that the government required a certain company to provide records of customer phone calls and has made efforts to track e-mail, video and voice chats, file transfers and other personal information.

Some people are in an uproar, complaining about the invasion of privacy. Others are more realistic and realize we gave up our privacy long ago.

If you use a Global Positioning System to get from here to there, you’re using multiple satellites that track your movement. When you use the Internet, your service provider is sharing your location with the website you’re visiting. If you’re using an app to track your jogging route, it’s not only keeping your statistics, in many cases the app is sharing the route.

If this doesn’t concern you at least a little, it should.

Common sense indicates we have nothing to worry about. Law enforcement officers have no reason to care about our online habits as long as we’re not significantly breaking the law. To be safe, follow two rules: Don’t do anything that appears illegal and don’t do anything stupid.

Boston-area resident Cameron D’Ambrosio, 18, an aspiring rap artist who gravitates toward profane lyrics, broke both rules. In May, after the Boston Marathon bombings, he posted lyrics on his Facebook page where he not only claimed what he planned would be far worse than the bombings, he also implied he might “go insane” and attack the White House.

Law enforcement became involved, not because of high-tech surveillance, but because his classmates reported what he said to school administrators, who called the police. Authorities arrested the teen and charged him with “communicating terroristic threats.”

Some were outraged. Over 90,000 people signed a petition demanding his release. Others thought the charges were justified.

As with most situations, right and wrong are nowhere near as obvious as those on the extremes would have you believe. We should have the freedom to post lyrics we’ve written online without fear of prosecution, no matter how offensive those lyrics may be. But, freedom comes with responsibility.

If you claim you are going to be violent, it’s reasonable to expect law enforcement agencies to assume you’re planning violence. It’s also reasonable to assume that you’ll be freed once investigators realize you’re at no risk of harm to anyone but yourself.

That’s not what happened with D’Ambrosio. A judge kept him in jail, where he stayed until June when a grand jury refused to indict him. In the end, D’Ambrosio is free and authorities are slightly embarrassed.

What about us? Are we happy with the privacy we have? They aren’t easy questions, but they’re ones we should ask every time we pick up a cell phone or go online. If not, anything said could make us the next D’Ambrosio.

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