Danielle Citron Discusses the Challenges of Protecting Sexual Privacy in a Digital World

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on June 5, 2019


“The criminal justice system tends to view online abuse as ‘no big deal,’ says Danielle Citron, and perpetrators get empathy while ‘we forget and erase the victims.’”
   - from “Serial Cyberstalker Could Avoid Prison Again Under Plea Deal” (US News, May 22, 2019)


Danielle Citron, an internationally recognized privacy expert, has released two new articles that delve into the challenges of protecting sexual privacy.


Professor Citron’s work focuses on information privacy, free expression, and civil rights. Her book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (Harvard University Press) explores the phenomenon of cyber stalking and the role of law and private companies in combating it. The editors of Cosmopolitan included her book in its “20 Best Moments for Women in 2014.”


Below are a few key takeaways from Professor Citron’s new articles: “Sexual Privacy” and “Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security”.


Sexual Privacy
By Danielle Citron
Yale Law Journal, 2019 (forthcoming)
“Sexual Privacy” was a winner of the 2018 Privacy for Policymakers award.


Sexual privacy is based on social norms about access to information about the human body, gender identity, sexuality, and intimacy. Criminal and tort law do not fully address violations of sexual privacy. Digital technology magnifies the harm from violations of sexual privacy.


Criminal law does not provide comprehensive protection for sexual privacy; for example, a “revenge porn” law enacted in Maryland only applies to images posted on the Internet, but excludes images sent to colleagues, friends, and family via email or text.


Online service providers are immune from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; this law should be amended so that platforms that knowingly and intentionally leave up unlawful and harmful content are not protected from liability.


Digital technology magnifies the harm from violations of sexual privacy, as networked technologies allow violations on a large scale and attacks from around the world; search engines ensure that posts remain visible far into the future.


Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security
By Danielle Citron and Robert Chesney
California Law Review, Vol. 107, 2019 (forthcoming)


"Deep fake" technology makes it possible to create audio and video files of real people saying and doing things they never said or did. These technologies create policy and legal problems. Possible responses include technological solutions, criminal and civil liability, and regulation.


"Deep-fake" technologies use machine learning techniques to create video and audio records that make it appear that a real person did or said something that she did not do; for example, a fake video might show an American soldier murdering an innocent civilian.


Technology cannot reliably detect deep fakes; market responses such as firms that create a comprehensively record of all of one's movements might be helpful but would threaten privacy.


A ban on “deep fake” technologies would violate free speech rights, but a carefully tailored prohibition on deep fakes that amount to defamation, fraud, or the incitement of imminent violence would be permissible.


Federal agencies such as the Fair Trade Commission could play a role in regulating deep fakes; however, the idea of a federal agency judging the truthfulness of news stories or assessing the content of election advertising is troubling.


Danielle Citron is currently the Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law where she received the 2018 “UMD Champion of Excellence” award for teaching and scholarship. In July 2019, she will be joining the Boston University School of Law to help lead BU's curriculum and initiatives involving algorithmic bias, a topic she has vast experience with in her work and research.


Professor Citron is an internationally recognized information privacy expert. Her current scholarly project concerns sexual privacy as well as deep fakes and the challenges to privacy, democracy, and national security. Her book Hate Crimes in Cyberspace (Harvard University Press, 2014) explores the civil rights and civil liberties implications of cyber stalking.


Professor Citron has advised federal and state legislators, law enforcement, and international lawmakers on privacy issues. She has testified at congressional briefings on the First Amendment implications of laws regulating cyber stalking, sexual violence, and nonconsensual pornography. From 2014 to December 2016, Professor Citron advised California Attorney General Kamala Harris (elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016) on privacy issues. She served as a member of AG Harris’s Task Force to Combat Cyber Exploitation and Violence Against Women. In 2011, Professor Citron testified about online hate speech before the Inter-Parliamentary Committee on Anti-Semitism at the House of Commons.