Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2010
This chapter asks if new laws are needed to help individuals manage harmful information about them available online.
Lawmakers should require employers and others who make key decisions to disclose how they use information they uncover in online searches and elsewhere.
- The development of the Internet, search engines, social networking sites and other new technologies means that rumors and reputation-damaging information can easily be accessed by employers, colleges considering applicants, and others.
- Self-help by individuals, such as bringing defamation lawsuits, is expensive and cumbersome.
- Legal remedies for those whose reputations are damaged online have not caught up with the technology. Searches for people’s names using search engines are not regulated like credit reports.
- The Fair Credit Reporting Act’s structure could be adapted to regulate online searches for personal information, creating something like a Fair Reputation Reporting Act to regulate entities that make critical decisions about insurance, banking, housing and education.
- False negative reports about people online are similar to pollution; they cause widespread damage to the public by harming privacy.
- Little is known about how credit scores and other reputation assessments, such as those for lawyers and doctors, are calculated. More transparency should be required.
- Protecting consumers by establishing transparency is more important than free speech.