Conceptualizing privacy has long been a contested endeavor. Some scholars argue that privacy protects important, though different, interests, while others are skeptical as to whether privacy vindicates interests worthy of discourse at all. At the heart of this dispute is privacy’s protean nature: it means “so many different things to so many different people” that attempts to articulate just what it is, or why it is important, generally have failed or become unwieldy. Without a framework with which to delineate its parameters, privacy remains a conceptual muddle.
This is a particularly dangerous proposition given the geometric growth of information technologies. We may soon find ourselves living in a world where Internet Service Providers provide digital trails of our online activities to state and federal law enforcement; where government has access to our social network profiles, photographs, and wall musings; where cell phone providers track our daily movements for friends and retailers; where a vast network of public and private cameras record and analyze our daily activities with facial recognition software to identify “threats;” and where employers track employees’ movements with biometric data and radio-frequency identification. One might say that we already live there. As the founder of Sun Microsystems warned, “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.”
Daniel J. Solove’s newest book, Understanding Privacy, seeks to reverse this course. Much as Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis mapped the importance of privacy in the face of the changing technologies of their time, Solove has done the same (and then some) for ours. In a carefully crafted text, he illustrates the deficiencies of existing theories of privacy and then develops an alternative, pragmatic approach to mapping privacy’s ever-changing terrain. Solove’s nuanced understanding of privacy and its immense complexities is refreshing in its thoroughness, but one should not mistake comprehension for completion. Solove does not intend for his theory of privacy to be the last word on the topic; indeed, because new privacy problems arise every day, the best we can hope for is a trustworthy guide. In this respect, Solove’s visionary pragmatism expertly navigates us through the twenty-first century “Information Privacy Law Project” and beyond.