Privacy Degree Zero

We all know that reading medical books can make the world appear awash in disease. Is the same true of books on privacy? Was it because Daniel Solove’s Understanding Privacy was sitting on my desk during the winter that the news seemed awash with stories about challenges to privacy? No sooner were the private “Climategate” e-mails splashed across front pages than the Guardian published a secret climate agreement among the rich nations. Facebook, not for the first time, embarrassed itself by changing its privacy settings–perhaps better called publicity settings–with minimal notification to its members. If that weren’t enough, we learned that Yahoo was selling details of subscribers’ accounts and Sprint was releasing location data of its cellphone users. (For the latter, the police only had to ask for the data, and they did so some 8 million times.) Showing evenhandedness in whom they investigate, a police department in Southern California sought permission to read private text messages on the pagers of its officers. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security was once again caught gathering and circulating information on innocuous citizens.

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