Lawyer on hunger strike in DC to protect online privacy

WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- What kind of world do you want to live in? That's the question Brian Zulberti asks, sitting in front of the Supreme Court, in the midst of a hunger strike.

Protests in front of government buildings are nothing new in D.C., but the argument Zulberti is making affects anyone with a job and an Internet connection.

Zulberti, an attorney from Delaware, is fighting for the legal separation of your personal life and your professional life.

He hopes to land a 90 second spot on a national TV news network where he can spread his message. He claims if that doesn't happen, he is willing to starve to death on the sidewalk in front of the nation's high court.

The world Zulberti wants to live in is one where Americans are not judged by their employers for content they post online when they're off the clock, as long as that content is legal and unrelated to their work.

"We have Americans being fired everyday from coast to coast in almost every single state for simply doing completely legal things like having a beer after work or expressing an opinion that just doesn't happen to fly with the boss," said Zuberti while sitting on his bed, a reclining beach chair, under an umbrella protecting him from the sun.

He is pushing for laws prohibiting employers from firing employees for online content - pictures and opinions. Zulberti, a Villanova law graduate with his own history of online incidents that have landed him in trouble with employers, points to California, where similar laws were recently adopted as the example the rest of the country should follow.

"I believe that every single American has the right to be off the clock. I don't believe that anyone should feel that they live in a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job interview. I don't believe that anyone should be told that they're the face of a company at 4 a.m. on a dance floor," said Zulberti.

He sat next to a sign that read "hunger strike" with a tally of how many days he is into his fight. "Day 3" it read on Tuesday.

People passing by would stopp to ask why Zulberti is starving himself, at which point he saw an opportunity to spread a message that, agree or disagree, seems to engage those who stop.

Minilik Yewondwossen was walking by when he noticed Zulberti. Yewondwossen inquired, debated, but ultimately disagreed with Zulberti.

"You are the face of that company, even when you are off the clock you need to represent your company," said Yewondwossen. "You shouldn't advertise everything. I understand when you're off the clock you have a life and when you're at work you have a life but I think these two should be consolidated," he continued.

The fact that Yewondwossen and Zulberti are roughly the same age, in their late 20s to early 30s, shows that the split on this privacy issue is hardly drawn on generational lines.

While sightseeing on the steps of the Supreme Court Tuesday, Leigh Howell and his wife Shawn stopped by Zulberti's sidewalk post. The Howells illustrate the issue's gray areas.

"I think we need some protections and privacy within reasonableness of course. If you have a checkered past, well, then that's life," said Leigh Howell. "But if we were going to hire a nanny," continued Howell, now speaking to his wife, "and the nanny did something crazy the weekend before, you'd want to know, right?" Shawn Howell affirmed, "Of course."

While Zulberti says this is a privacy rights issue, others argue it is a judgement issue. They say that employers should be able to hire and fire based on the decisions you willingly make online - something Zuberti stresses they'll have increasing access to as technology continues to advance.

He described the world of the future as the "total information world."

"Employers aren't just going to have a lot of information about you, they'll have all of your secrets. In the future, with technology advancing, everyone is going to know everything about everyone," said Zulberti, describing a world eerily similar to George Orwell's 1984.

"We don't want to step into that future without adapting that law to it now," he said.


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