The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age

By in Public on March 9, 2013

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Seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day, electronic databases are compiling information about you. As you surf the Internet, an unprecedented amount of your personal information is being recorded and preserved forever in the digital minds of computers. For each individual, these databases create a profile of activities, interests, and preferences used to investigate backgrounds, check credit, market products, and make a wide variety of decisions affecting our lives. The creation and use of these databases—which Daniel J. Solove calls “digital dossiers”—has thus far gone largely unchecked. In this startling account of new technologies for gathering and using personal data, Solove explains why digital dossiers pose a grave threat to our privacy.

The Digital Person sets forth a new understanding of what privacy is, one that is appropriate for the new challenges of the Information Age. Solove recommends how the law can be reformed to simultaneously protect our privacy and allow us to enjoy the benefits of our increasingly digital world.

The first volume in the series EX MACHINA: LAW, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY

3 thoughts on “The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age

  1. Christopher Byrne "The Business Controls Caddy"
    17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Are You Really What You Eat, Drink and Drive?, September 12, 2005

    How many times have we heard the expression that “you are what you eat”? But what if that were extended to what you drive, what you read, where you work, what you spend, and much more. What if this information was being gathered by unknown people for uncertain purposes in digital format, would this “digital dossier”, which might be used to make decisions about you, be accurate? Well they do exist and are assembled and used by people and groups that you may not even know about, even though the use may have a direct impact on your life.

    So you might then ask if existing legal frameworks provide any protection or recourse to keep a handle on the information? In The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (2004, New York University Press, 282 Pages, ISBN 0814798462), George Washington University Law Professor and privacy law expert Daniel J. Solove weaves history, legal precedents, changes in society/technology, and discussions of practical business/marketing into a narrative that is not only easy to read and understand, but one that must be read by anybody who wants to discuss and understand privacy in a meaningful way.

    Solove, who also co-authored Information Privacy Law in 2003, starts out by laying the groundwork for the privacy discussion. He outlines how information databases came to be and how they have evolved. He then provides the basis for the metaphor he wants to present, showing that it is not the Orwellian world of 1984 we need to fear, but the world imagined by Kafka in The Trial that should be of concern to individuals. Having never read The Trial, I found this discussion to be fascinating and in some ways changed some of my thoughts on the issue, while reenforcing others.

    The meat of the book, which is built on his metaphor, is that current privacy laws in the United States have not kept up with technology, and that unless they are changed, individuals will continue to be helpless in controlling their information (which may or may not be private). As he points out, consumers are always at the wrong end of one-sided contracts when it comes to information surrounding their information. Acknowledging that the information genie is indeed out of the bottle, Solove hones in on discussions about what the laws need to address, but how this may not be so easy. The key is defining what is meant by “Secrecy” and “embarrassment”. Also key is that the risks we face, given that so much of our lives is already catalogued, are the result of indifference or mistakes on the part of the people who hold the data. It is also the fact that this indifference and chances for error are magnified because there is no market or economic incentive for companies to have privacy policies that work for the consumer and have some teeth.

    He develops a framework for legal changes that centers on the 4th and 5th amendments of the constitution, providing examples how in some areas the courts have evolved as technologies change. But part of the challenge, as he points out, is the patchwork of laws in the United States that conflict, overlap, and in sone case are too inclusive in their implementation.

    It is unclear from this book how the changes he proposes can be accomplished. Consumers are not united enough and do not have deep enough pockets to fight for the change. If the book has only one shortcoming, it would in my opinion be lack of discussion of this imbalance. In light of this, it only rates 5 stars instead of 5++.

    Who Should Read This Book?

    This book should be read by anybody who wants to gain a solid foundation to understand and discuss privacy issues in a meaningful manner.

    The Scorecard

    A Double Eagle on a long Par 5 playing into the wind.

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  2. Susan Soltis "Sue Soltis"
    10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Solove offers Real solutions to Real problems, November 14, 2004

    At long last . . . a book about privacy that doesn’t just whine about how privacy is “dead”! Solove offers real solutions to real problems. The book is both frightening and optimistic. Solove talks about the efforts underway by big corporations and big government to collect our data and how its use is harming people. These developments are astonishing, and the book describes them in a way that opens your eyes to the big picture of what is going on. His discussion of why we should protect privacy is the best argument I’ve yet heard. Solove doesn’t dumb down his discussion like many other books do. Nor does he throw his hands up in the air and say that our privacy is all gone. Solove is very specific about the changes he proposes in the law. I appreciated the fact that Solove offers real solutions. This is a deeper book than most books on privacy. If you want to learn why privacy should be protected and how, you should definitely read this remarkable book.

    Sue Soltis


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  3. Joseph Poliakon "Techno-Geek"
    7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    SOLOVE KNOWZ PRIVACY LAW!, September 11, 2005
    Joseph Poliakon “Techno-Geek” (Space Coast, FL USA) –

    This is the third book in my latest readings on post-9/11 citizen privacy and personal security issues. O’Harrow’s “No Place To Hide” and Rosen’s “The Naked Crowd” preceded this one. All have been informative, but this book by Daniel Solove is the crème de la crème. It is five stars with a bullet.

    It is scholarly in content without being esoteric as it wrestles with privacy law and privacy reconceptualization issues. Solove is a rare lawyer with the organized mind of an engineer, a “law engineer.” He delineates the emerging problems attendant to digital dossiers while concisely laying out and discussing the pertinent law, privacy issues and conceptual models of privacy protection. He is able to deftly juggle Kafka, Huxley and Orwell’s “privacy & surveillance” writings while seamlessly marrying them and the other digital privacy elements to privacy law history running from Warren and Brandeis’ “The Right To Privacy,” through the Privacy Act of 1974 up to COPPA.

    Like many of us “digital persons” pursuing life, liberty and happiness out in the U.S. hinterlands, Solove recognizes “the government’s increasing access to our digital dossiers is one of the most significant threats to privacy of our times…”. He wisely understands that the “law crafting” solution must be an adaptively dynamic one and proposes an architectural solution that is process oriented.

    This book makes it clear that SOLOVE KNOWZ PRIVACY LAW!

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