If you’ve ever been fired for posting a nude picture of yourself on the Internet, or for writing homophobic rants on Facebook, there’s a man who says he is willing to die outside of the Supreme Court for you.
Brian Zulberti, a lawyer from Delaware, is a day and a half into a hunger strike on the sidewalk to promote a simple belief: that our social lives and professional lives should be separate by law.
“This is about privacy and the advancement of technology,” says Zulberti, sitting in a reclining beach chair, wearing a hat that says “Us Versus Them” and a shirt with a picture of him posing shirtless in front of the Capitol Building. “Soon it will be the total information age, privacy out the window. The best we can do is adapt the law to the future now so we don’t turn into 1984, George Orwell style.”
Older couples walked by Zulberti without a second thought. But groups of students stopped, chatted, gave him high fives and wished him luck. A few years from entering the job market, they could relate.
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Zulberti has been down this road before. He was fired as a high school tennis coach for comments he posted on a website about an opposing player. He became a minor viral sensation in 2013 when he applied for jobs in the state, not by sending out a resume, but by sending a picture of himself in a rolled-up t-shirt. He then posted a picture of himself in his underwear onto Facebook with a handwritten sign begging someone to hire him “as a lawyer. Damn, NOT A (sic) ESCORT.”
What might look like a dumb stunt and a way to guarantee continued unemployment for most, was a patriotic mission to Zulberti. He says he has posted a number of naked photos of himself online, and wants the right to keep doing it — without consequences to his (currently stalled) career.
“Look, if I’ve got to get your eyes to my penis to see the problems with the nation,” he says, “then so be it.”
Before coming to the Supreme Court, Zulberti — a graduate of the Villanova Law School — has been traveling across the country trying to draw attention to cases of people being fired for their social media presence. Recently, he went to New Jersey to talk about the case of Sam Falcetano, a Department of Public Works employee fired for writing homophobic posts on Facebook. Zulberti, who says he is “about as gay as the day is long,” said in a blog post that he may wish horrible things upon the man, but still doesn’t believe he should have been fired.
Christopher Calabrese, the legislative counsel for privacy-related issues at the American Civil Liberties Union in D.C., says this isn’t a cut-and-dry issue. Yes, the ACLU is fighting to make it so no one should be “coercing you to share information that you haven’t shared freely” such as social media passwords.
“Just like your employer can’t come to your house to check it out before they hire you, they shouldn’t be able to check out your digital house,” he says. But as for what you post out into the world for other people to see, that’s trickier.
“You don’t necessarily get more protections for what you say online than you do if you said it offline,” he said.
If it seems like our selfless hero Zulberti is starved for media attention, he is. Or at least he’s willing to be.
“I am a believer that all publicity is good publicity,” he said. “I will die right here, no doubt about it, 100 percent certain. I will do it for the headline: ‘Attorney Dies, Collapses in Front of the Supreme Court of the United States, Talking About Privacy Issues.’ Or I get the [press]. Either way, the message is out and I’ve won. Can’t lose.”
And no, getting an interview with the Washington Post isn’t enough for him.
“I want a major TV network,” he says.” I want 90 second spot on a major network during prime time. Yes, if you were from CNN and you said Anderson Cooper will air you tonight, I would pack up my signs and leave. Mission accomplished.”