By Anita L. Allen, a law and philosophy professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
An expanding library of books addresses the fate of privacy in the Era of Revelation. The central theme of my contribution to the genre sets it apart. My book’s focus is “unpopular” privacy, rather than the “popular” privacy people in the United States, Canada and Europe tend to want and expect government to secure. I define as “unpopular” privacy that is unwanted, disliked, not preferred, and resented by the people it is suppose to benefit or constrain.
Testing the plausibility ofprivacy paternalism for liberal societies, I engage readers in a wide-ranging discussion of physical privacies of seclusion, isolation, and bodily exposure; and then informational privacies of confidentiality and data protection. Specifically, under the rubric of unwanted physical privacies, I discuss nude dancing, Muslim attire, public health quarantine and super max prison cells; under informational privacies, I take up whether “race” counts as sensitive data, the confidentiality obligations of lawyers, health care providers and other workers, electronic social networking, and online commerce and self-exposure.
Should youthful Internet users be blocked from websites that collect sensitive personal information, for their own good? Should the law oblige us to forego Amazon.com since the giant consumer goods seller keeps track of our purchases and makes recommendations, or gmail because it pitches ads to us based on words that appear in our private messages to family and friends? Should adults with intimate secrets be banned from publishing them? Is there a possible justification for laws that ban Apps that monitor and store health information in the “cloud”?
Unpopular Privacy explores the normative underpinnings of laws that promote, require, and enforce physical and informational privacies. My book struggles to understand the values that prompt real and imagined unpopular privacy mandates. Persuading libertarians and feminists with whom I identify to endorse regimes of imposed privacy is a significant intellectual challenge; both groups famously caution against the subordinating potential of compulsory privacies.