In this piece written for Forbes, Hogan Lovells privacy practice leader Chris Wolf contrasts the relatively light penalty imposed upon Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers student convicted of invasion of privacy and bias intimidation with the remedies imposed by the Federal Trade Commission for violations of Section 5 of the FTC Act.
A series of privacy-violating acts in New Jersey leading to real harm – a person’s suicide – resulted in punishment more typical of convictions for excessive speeding violations. By contrast, privacy issues focused on by regulators frequently result in serious consequences for the investigated companies – 20 year consent decrees – even in cases where no specific consumer harm can be shown.
The privacy regulators often bring enforcement actions to teach corporate America a lesson, and to encourage better behavior. But the fact is that with thousands of companies employing Chief Privacy Officers, and with a new realization on the part of most businesses that privacy matters (as it creates needed consumer trust), companies for the most part have matured past an era of adolescent disregard for consumer privacy rights. Privacy is taken seriously in corporate America.
Empowered with tools (and toys) of technology, the same cannot necessarily be said about the Dharun Ravi generation. It is easy for teens to invade their peers’ privacy, and to cause real harm. One wonders whether the 30 day sentence Mr. Ravi received will teach any lessons or affect online behavior.
Had Ravi been an online company, he would be dealing with FTC enforcement staff for decades after his jail sentence is over.