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Something has gone wrong in modem America, argues Jeffrey Rosen in The Unwanted Gaze. Our medical records are bought and sold by health care providers, drug companies, and the insurance industry. Our e-mails are intercepted and read by our employers. knows everything there is to know about our reading and web-browsing habits. Poor Monica Lewinsky's draft love letters to President Bill Clinton were seized by the villainous Ken Starr, and ultimately plastered all over the nation's newspapers.

To Rosen, the nature of the problem is clear: These examples are all part of a troubling "phenomenon that affects all Americans: namely, the erosion of privacy at home, at work, and in cyberspace, so that intimate personal information ... is increasingly vulnerable to being wrenched out of context and exposed to the world." Rosen is, of course, hardly unusual in viewing all these issues as quintessential privacy violations. In the past few years the media seem to have woken up to privacy issues, and most of us have been sympathetic readers of dozens of popular articles addressing just such a range of "privacy violations." At the moment, the language of privacy seems to be the only language we have for talking about issues such as workplace e-mail monitoring, electronic cookies, medical records, and Monica's love letters.

Is this a good thing? Unquestionably, Rosen's examples are troubling, but are they all troubling in precisely the same way? Does it make sense to analyze them all as solely or primarily examples of the erosion of "privacy"? Moreover, is there a coherent and articulate conception of "privacy" that underlies all of Rosen's examples?

Publication Citation

89 Geo. L.J. 2047-2062 (2001)