About This Blog

Friday, January 30, 2015

"Intellectual Privacy" (Neil Richards)

TITLE: Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age
AUTHOR: Neil Richards
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015, (240 pages).

How far should the law allow freedom of speech without allowing invasion of privacy? What are the guidelines to information sharing especially when they get up close and personal? What about matters of national security? Think about Edward Snowden where information ethics clash with security concerns. If it is problematic before the Internet, it gets much worse with an increasingly ubiquitous cyber-environment.

From webcams to digital surveillances; Google searches to social media usages; regular emails to website visits; intellectual property are increasingly being shared and distributed quickly and widely. In a world of free and fee-based access to information, one wonders about who owns the information. What does digital privacy means? What is intellectual privacy? Is it still relevant today? These questions are addressed in this book through two main thoughts.
  1. Where there is conflict, Freedom of speech trumps privacy matters
  2. Where there is no conflict, privacy can protect free speech.

Author Neil Richards does not see an abandonment of old ideas or old ways of doing things, but see it as old ideas in new clothes in that values do not necessarily change. The Professor of Law at the University of Washington (St Louis) begins by defining the terms "privacy" and "free speech." For Richards, "Privacy law is the conclusion that some boundary between ourselves and others must be respected in a certain way, depending on the context." It is a group of related concepts that define personal information. "Free speech" is also ambiguous in many ways. Apart from simply quoting the First Amendment, Richards defines it as a contributor to the "processes of democratic self-government" and "search for truth." He believes that intellectual privacy requires the three essential elements of "freedom of thought, the right to read freely, and the right to communicate in confidence."

Designed in three parts, Part One is about "Tort Privacy" in which the author looks at the conflicts between privacy concerns and freedom of speech. Is there emotional harm? How does one distinguish the public's right to know and the individual's right to privacy? He looks at the limits of disclosure for celebrities, ordinary people, and explicit information of a sexual nature, and how we can treat such information disclosure without compromising the dignity of individuals. How can the law protect individuals from invasions of privacy? Quoting multiple cases, Richards shows us how tricky the world has become because of the digital culture. Things are increasingly more ambiguous.

Part Two on "Intellectual Privacy" looks at the way both privacy and freedom can co-exist. Though freedom of thought and belief is core to intellectual privacy, Richards notes that the law is still unable to ensure the fullest expression of this freedom. In a digital culture, a lot of private information are captured on public servers. Richards's concern revolves around digital usages being at the intersection of freedom of thought and intellectual privacy. This covers reading on electronic media too!

Part Three proposes a path forward for an increasingly digital future. While free speech is to be protected, three qualifications are necessary. It needs to protect individuals from emotional harm. It needs to be done as a manner that respects democratic culture. The law is needed to help define the line between what is for public consumption and what is not.

At the heart of Richards' thesis is a cautious balance of privacy and freedom of speech. In fact, both have to be asserted together in order to bring out the best of each. He says it well:

"My argument about freedom of thought in the digital age is this: Any technology that we use in our thinking implicates our intellectual privacy, and if we want to preserve our ability to think fearlessly, free of monitoring, interference, or repercussion, we should ensure these technologies with a meaningful measure of intellectual privacy."

This parallels Richards's notion of civil liberties and public law where both have to be preserved for the sake of the other. Legal rules and civil liberties will be affected by the digital world. Moral responsibility must occupy a greater space. Richards borrows some privacy principles from Mozilla and DuckDuckGo to point readers forward.  Ultimately, the concern lies in the balance of power as well as who has the information at hand. With the world increasingly connected electronically and more people are sharing information via social media, books like these will only become more important. Well argued and clearly presented, the ideas in the book will expose one to recognize that the digital world affects us in more ways than we can ever think. I suspect that this is only the beginning of more things to come.

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Oxford University Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment