Rethinking Reasonable Expectations of Privacy in Online Social Networks

61 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2010 Last revised: 13 Feb 2015

Date Written: November 15, 2010


Present U.S. privacy law is predominantly based on the ideals of individual control, autonomy, and liberty from governmental intrusion, despite the fact that its inspiration was an idea grounded on the importance of protecting human dignity and an “inviolate personality.” On the other hand, Europe has predominantly taken the position that privacy protects human dignity and fosters personal relationships. This view also promotes individual autonomy, although it does so in a different fashion and – as this paper suggests – perhaps to a greater extent. Privacy laws based on the right to a private life, such as those generally found in European jurisdictions, more accurately reflect the realities of the digital age and properly protect individual privacy online. In combination, protecting autonomy through principles based on human dignity and recognizing that reasonable expectations can have their place in the context of online communities and digital communication – albeit often mediated and less private than some forms of offline communication – would result in more effective individual safeguards and more satisfactory results. Recent decisions of the European Court of Human Rights have laid the theoretical groundwork required for heightened protection of human dignity in these online environments.

Keywords: Privacy, Government, Europe, Online, Social, Networks, Human Rights, Internet, United States, Canada, Facebook, Myspace, Information, Dignity, Autonomy, European, European Court of Human Rights, Court, Law, Communication, Reasonable Expectation

Suggested Citation

Newell, Bryce Clayton, Rethinking Reasonable Expectations of Privacy in Online Social Networks (November 15, 2010). Richmond Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 17(4), art. 12, pp. 1-62 (2011). Available at SSRN:

Bryce Clayton Newell (Contact Author)

University of Kentucky ( email )

Lexington, KY 40506
United States

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