The Internet

Sharing and Protecting Personal Information Online

It is important to be careful if you provide personal data online. Never give personal identifying information (such as your Social Security number) to solicitors or agencies that contact you first, even if the email or online advertisement looks official. It can be challenging to distinguish legitimate solicitors from those who want your personal information for fraudulent purposes.

If you shop online, look for indications that the website is secure before you enter a credit card or other personal data.  A data use notice should be included on any site that collects personal data. The notice should define the reasons and uses for the data collected, including any data collected through cookies or hidden programs. In the case that information is used for promotional or business purposes, or any other reason that is not a service to the consumer, the user must agree to this, usually via opt-in selections.

If you meet someone online, while it may seem safe, and at times easier, to share your personal information with them over the internet, it is important to use caution. In reality, you do not really who is on the other end of an online conversation, and people on the other end of an online conversation may want to get personal information from you to use it for their own personal (and often fraudulent) gains.  Avoid revealing personal identifying information, such as your name, where you live, or where you go to school, to anyone you meet online. More information on Internet safety can be found at and at

TIP: When using public Wi-Fi “hotspots,” only do so for non-sensitive activities like research and internet surfing.  Do not do your banking over these public hotspots and be careful about typing your social network or any other passwords.

Internet Crime

The government has made efforts to protect your privacy when using the internet.  For example, revenge porn laws provide a legal remedy for those whose ex-partners post illicit pictures of them online without their consent. For certain areas, there are also policies that prohibit the publication of private data and protect information, such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, HIPPA, and the Financial Modernization Act. The federal government can even hold businesses liable if they do not take steps to prevent hacking.

Internet crime is increasingly common.  Over the last five years, the FBI has received an average of more than 284,000 complaints of Internet crime per year. Victims report fraudulent Internet auctions, credit card fraud, scams impersonating the FBI, identity theft, fake emails seeking donations (ex: disaster relief donations) and purchasing merchandise that was never delivered. For more information on common types of Internet fraud and how to protect yourself, go to Victims can file complaints with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center at

Limiting Your Exposure on Social Network Sites

Most social networks automatically set your account so “everyone” can see the information you post on the social network website, like who you are and what you do. You can decide how public you want to be with your privacy settings and with the content you decide to post. Periodically visit your account settings to customize your privacy settings to suit your tastes.  Keep your circle of friends recognizable – if you let an unknown person join your network, that person’s friends can have access to your information too.

Before sharing something online, take a minute and think about what you are posting and disclosing. Be careful about revealing where you are and never post that you will be away from home.  Protect your personal information by not posting your email address (use the social network’s messaging tool instead), full date of birth (omit the year), home address, or phone number.

Location-Sharing Services

Location-Sharing Services share the user’s physical location with others via their smart phones or social networking sites. Location-sharing is a great way to track down your friends or to let your parents know when you are stuck in traffic. However, there are risks as well. If you let too many people know where you are (or where you are not), you could also be more vulnerable to stalkers, ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, or burglars who want to know whether you are home. Take the time to check the service’s privacy controls so that you are not unintentionally sharing your location with people you don’t even know.

Downloading Information, Pictures, or Music from the Internet

Sometimes it is illegal to download information, pictures, or music from the Internet.  It is illegal, for example, to pirate or download copyrighted material (such as music, movies, shows, and photographs) without authorization. Under federal law, criminal copyright infringement, (downloading material, even for your personal use) is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and fines and charges of up to $150,000 per fine.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are the two primary groups that police the downloading of music and movies. They continuously monitor downloads and websites for copyright violation and tend to pay close attention to colleges and universities. When they see that a song or movie has been downloaded illegally, they notify the school who then takes steps to internally identify the person who downloaded the file. There can be serious legal and financial ramifications to illegal downloading.

You could also get into trouble if you download sexual pictures of children or young teens.  Possession of or control over “child pornography” is a crime punishable by time in prison. Child pornography is not just limited to little kids.  It can also include young teenagers. For example, if you are 18 year old guy and have sexual photos of a younger teenage female, you may be in possession of child pornography under the law.  If you are convicted of possessing (or attempting to possess) such material, or sharing that material with others, you would have to register as a sex offender for life. Delete any email with an attached photo of child pornography immediately.

Using Personal Email and Visiting Websites while at Work

Your employer and boss can legally monitor you emails and the websites you visit while at work. You should not expect privacy when you use your workplace computer to send emails and browse the Internet. If you work for a state or a government agency, all your emails can be reviewed by the general public, under the Open Records Act. In other words, use company email for company business only! Email is free – use a separate email for nonwork related communication.


Cyberbullying has various definitions. In general, it refers to when an individual uses a cell phone, computer or other electronic communications device to taunt, harass, torment, humiliate or threaten another individual. The law is unclear whether the behavior must be repeated and cause harm to be characterized as cyberbullying. A cyberbully might post humiliating photos of a classmate online or launch an online campaign of horrible rumors about a peer. Cyberbullying can lead to anxiety and depression in young victims and, in some cases, have even led to suicide.

It is difficult to address the cyberbullying problem without infringing on young people’s First Amendment right to free speech. In many cases, such behavior may not break the law, but may result in reprimand at school, including but not limited to suspension.  However, in some really bad cases, cyberbullying can lead to you being sued for what you posted online.

In Kentucky, “bullying” means any unwanted verbal, physical, or social behavior among students that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and is repeated or has the potential to be repeated:

  1. That occurs on school premises, on school-sponsored transportation, or at a school-sponsored event; or
  2. That disrupts the education process.

KRS § 158.148 (2016).

Kentucky anti-bullying laws do not cover off-campus conduct and require school districts to formulate a code of acceptable behavior and discipline that prohibits bullying. The school district codes of discipline must include a process for informing students, parents, legal guardians, and school employees of the requirements of the code, including training for school employees. 

Visit for more information.

Online Defamation

Defamation is a false statement which tends to harm the reputation of a person or company.  You may have heard of “libel” and “slander” and defamation covers both of those terms. Both state and federal defamation laws govern libel (written defamation) and slander (spoken defamation) online.

To sue for defamation, you would have to prove the following:

  • That the statement you are suing about is a false statement of fact.  Note that a fact, which can be prove true or false, is different than opinion.  Opinions are typically not actionable as defamation, although if opinions are mixed with untruths or manipulations of the truth, it can be considered defamation.
  • That the false statement of fact has harmed your reputation.  It is not enough that the statement is false. It has to have affected your reputation negatively too.
  • The false statement of fact must be made without adequate due diligence or research into the truthfulness of the statement.  Individuals that are the subject of defamatory statements often try to prove that the statement was made with full knowledge of its falsity.

Truth can be used as a defense in slander and libel cases, with exceptions.

Sometimes, libel can be removed or redacted from online forums.

For famous people, the rules are different. If the person who is the subject of the false statement of fact is a celebrity or public official, that person must also prove “malice.” Malice is proven when the person posting the information on the internet intended to do harm or acted with reckless disregard of the truth in making the statements.