By Chantal de la Rionda

The vacuum of youth media critique is being filled by Chantal de la Rionda, in her column, Mis-media. With her degree in International Relations, Chantal’s long-held interest in cross cultural communication is now featured in the column which addresses media ethics (or lack thereof) aimed at 18-30 years olds. She brings to the table her experience as a young woman living in Washington, D.C., as well as her observations as the assistant to NPR’s Ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin. Chantal is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Communication at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS) with the goal of further developing her writing skills in pop cultural and media studies.

Your Privacy = Crtl + Alt + Delete?
January 25, 2005

With the advent of electronic communication, the world is becoming a smaller place. With a click of a mouse and the entering of a password, a world of information unfolds before the internet user—a world both public and private. The most private of these is e-mail.

Companies like Hotmail, Gmail and AOL have gone through rigorous security settings and re-settings in order to guarantee the privacy of each Internet account. But in 2003, Yahoo! underwent legislation after the death of 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Justin Ellsworth, who was killed last fall in Iraq.

But what does the death of a young man have to do with internet security? Yahoo!’s case proved that there is plenty; particularly when Ellsworth's father tried to get access to his son’s e-mail account. His motives were simple enough: the father wanted merely to keep a recorded correspondence of his son’s last few months alive. However, like most internet providers, Yahoo!'s privacy policy prevented them from granting the father access.

In April of 2004, NPR covered this story noting that “Yahoo! spokeswoman Ning Swernavassin was sympathetic, but their privacy policy, which Justin agreed to when signing up for the account, clearly states that the account's contents are not transferable.”1

She explained that Yahoo! considers e-mail “as private content, as confidential information, so [they] wouldn't disclose that kind of highly personal information without the user's consent.” 2

This story of internet privacy issues reminded me of the correspondence young wives and expectant mothers would receive from their husbands during great wars. These dust-covered letters were cherished and saved to read and reread for generations after the unfortunate death of their authors.

So it’s an interesting comparison of how many letters one person writes in a year versus the amount of email conversations they have engaged in. Since the latter is likely to be far greater than the former, sheer volume dictates that more private issues are disclosed in those conversations. Granted, I cannot speak for the late Marine Lance Cpl. Ellsworth or other 20-year-olds, but sometimes my emails address issues which I would rather not share with others than their intended readers. This all leads me to wonder how Justin's friends feel about his parents reading their correspondence as well.

Shortly after this story aired on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, Mr. Ellsworth’s plea was brought to trial and the judge ordered Yahoo! to let the family read their son’s e-mail. They will have access to the e-mail from Justin’s outbox, but also the messages he received. This raises another issue of the rights of the sender to their privacy. All the more reason I wish more people would just pick up a pen...

1. David Schaper
2. 4/24/05 Weekend Edition Sunday PROFILE: “John Ellsworth’s Fight To Gain Access To His Son’s E-mail Account After He Was Killed In Action In Iraq”

About Us

Next Generation Radio is a series of one-week, student radio training projects co-sponsored by NPR and several journalist and media organizations. The projects are designed to give students who are interested in radio and journalism an opportunity to report and produce their own radio story.

Read an article about Next Generation Radio

Watch a video about Next Generation Radio

Contact us

The next student project
at Burton High school
November 14-19
San Francisco, CA

September 6, 2005

Going Up?
November 9, 2005

Your Privacy = Crtl + Alt + Delete?
January 26, 2005