Conceptualizing privacy

"Journalists, politicians, jurists, and legal academics often describe the
privacy problem created by the collection and use of personal information
through computer databases and the Internet with the metaphor of Big Brother—
the totalitarian government portrayed in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Professor Solove argues that this is the wrong metaphor. The Big Brother
metaphor as well as much of the law that protects privacy emerges from a
longstanding paradigm for conceptualizing privacy problems. Under this
paradigm, privacy is invaded by uncovering one’s hidden world, by surveillance,
and by the disclosure of concealed information. The harm caused by such
invasions consists of inhibition, self-censorship, embarrassment, and damage to
one’s reputation. Privacy law has developed with this paradigm in mind, and
consequently, it has failed to grapple effectively with the database problem.
Professor Solove argues that the Big Brother metaphor merely reinforces this
paradigm and that the problem is better captured by Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
Understood with the Kafka metaphor, the problem is the powerlessness,
vulnerability, and dehumanization created by the assembly of dossiers of
personal information where individuals lack any meaningful form of
participation in the collection and use of their information. Professor Solove
illustrates that conceptualizing the problem with the Kafka metaphor has
profound implications both for the law of information privacy and for choosing
legal approaches to solve the problem."

Internet-related Thought of the Day: E-mail is “Real Work”

Many folks complain about how their e-mail stacks up and gets in the way of their doing ‘real work.’ I think that this common refrain misapprehends the role that many of us have in the information economy: that of Information Factory Floor Workers. That is, one of the principal responsibilities many of us have is to deliver information in the right quantity, in the right manner, via the correct medium, and at the right time.

The metaphor might not be glamorous but there is real skill and judgment involved in this task. The infinite line of ‘information widgets’ coming our way down the e-mail conveyor belt may be daunting but remains (for the meantime) a key way that many of us provide value in an increasingly digitized world.