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The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America Hardcover – May 30, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (May 30, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679445463
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679445463
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,553,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen offers a vigorous defense of privacy in this book inspired by "the constitutional, legal, and political drama that culminated in the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton." He is particularly piqued at Ken Starr's investigation of Monica Lewinsky's private life, including her book-buying habits and the love letters she stored on her computer but never sent. "Privacy protects us from being misdefined and judged out of context in a world of short attention spans, a world in which information can easily be confused with knowledge," writes Rosen, who is also a legal affairs writer for The New Republic. "In such a world, it is easy for individuals to be victimized by the reductionist fallacy that the worst truth about them is also the most important truth."

Rosen has two overriding concerns: how sexual-harassment law has underwritten invasions of privacy (it was Paula Jones's suit against Clinton, after all, that led to the Lewinsky revelations), and how the Internet threatens anonymity (he criticizes, for instance, Amazon.com's "creepy feature that uses ZIP codes and domain names to identify the most popular books purchased on-line by employees at prominent corporations"). Much of The Unwanted Gaze reads like a law review article--albeit one written with the storytelling touch of a professional reporter--and at times Rosen seems to aim mainly for an academic audience. Yet the book remains entirely open to lay readers, especially when Rosen delivers his impassioned apologies for privacy: "There are dangers to pathological lying, but there are also dangers to pathological truth-telling. Privacy is a form of opacity, and opacity has its values. We need more shades and more blinds and more virtual curtains. Someday, perhaps, we will look back with nostalgia on a society that still believed opacity was possible and was shocked to discover what happens when it is not." Rosen is a sharp thinker with a knack for conveying complex ideas through readable prose. --John J. Miller

From Publishers Weekly

Why were Paula Jones's lawyers "permitted to go on a fishing expedition into the President's sexual history?" Why was Kenneth Starr able to subpoena store records of books Monica Lewinsky had purchased? Why was he able to retrieve unsent love letters on her home computer? The erosion of privacy in American life, as demonstrated by the Clinton/Lewinsky case, is at the heart of this thoughtful, legally complex study by Rosen, a law professor and editor at the New Republic. Using the Clinton/Lewinsky and Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill affair, along with other case studies, he eloquently addresses why protecting individual privacy matters, what will be lost if we accede to its destruction, how the current state of affairs came to be and what can be done to recapture our lost privacy. Arguing that our collective loss of privacy has corrupted public discourse, the health of our workplaces and the well-being of our most intimate relationships, Rosen presents a strikingly original analysis of the legal, technological and social developments that have converged to justify invasive intrusions into our lives. Specifically, he argues that the archaic conceptual basis for privacy law and the extension of sexual harassment law to include "hostile workplaces" (where no explicit sexual advances occur) as a form of sexual discrimination are both blameworthy, and that the Internet is complicit. His critique of "hostile workplace" law is sure to stir up controversy. And many observers will think he's gone too far when he suggests, among other things, that what Clinton allegedly did to Paula JonesAexposing himself, making a crude remarkAshouldn't be treated, legally, as sexual harassment. But Rosen's text is timely and will shape debate. And to his credit, he forgoes the traditional hand-wringing and offers creative and practical suggestions for a corrective course of action. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have a problem with the subtitle ("The Destruction of Privacy") because my definition of privacy seems to be more inclusive than is Rosen's. He is quite correct when expressing concern about what we both view as abuses of the Fourth Amendment, especially in recent years because of the WWW. I also agree with him that, in a litigious society, the sexual-harassment law has motivated many people to assert that all forms of offensive behavior are ipso facto illegal. But has privacy been destroyed or, at least, is it in imminent danger of being destroyed? I don't think so. I define privacy to include thoughts and feelings to which we can control access by another person. There are certain areas within the human mind and heart which can never be penetrated by an electronic device. However unwelcome an "unwanted gaze" may be, however offensive or even illegal another person's behavior may be, one's private or personal "space" need not be penetrated...unless with permission. Rosen raises a number of important issues. He supports his assertions (especially those concerning the sexual-harassment law) with solid examples. I share his concern about abuses of information which have been made possible by various electronic devices. I share his contempt for any behavior which violates human dignity.
As previously indicated, my definition of privacy is apparently more inclusive than is his. We also seem to differ on the purpose of privacy. For Rosen, privacy is defined by "social boundaries that protect us from being simplified and objectified and judged out of context." For me, privacy exists within four different dimensions (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) and its purpose is to help define one's identity and nourish one's dignity.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By John M. Eger on July 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
We owe Jeffry Rosen an enormous debt for joining issue on a matter of vital importance to the future of America.
As we rush headlong into a new but uncertain age, it is becoming increasingly clear that in our zeal to promote the marvels of the Internet, we may be seriously eroding the fundamental rights of the average citizen and consumer. Freedoms that Americans have so long cherished and expected are being undermined everyday not only by both internet entrepreneurs and global corporations, but sadly by our own government.
At stake ,as Professor Rosen points out is much more than merely occasional abuses of our more traditional concept of privacy, i.e. the right to protect confidential personal information from disclosure. Rather our more fundamental, constitutional "right to be let alone,"-- the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness without unwarranted scrutiny, physical or electronic invasion, is being assaulted by the proliferation of surreptitious data gathering on the Internet. At stake is much more than merely occasional abuses of our more traditional concept of privacy, i.e. the right to protect confidential personal information from disclosure. Rather our more fundamental, constitutional "right to be let alone,"-- the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness without unwarranted scrutiny, physical or electronic invasion, is being assaulted by the proliferation of surreptitious data gathering on the Internet. While a handful of legislators have expressed concern, the majority of Congress, administration officials and industry spokesmen have suggested only technical solutions. And it is true there are some ingenious software programs coming downstream.
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Format: Hardcover
The author finds our privacy under assault by the courts, by new technology, and by changing cultural attitudes. He uses this book to show that we have less privacy now than people did in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, and that we will soon have even less unless new approaches are designed. For example, material that would be private if spoken to another person can often be subpoened and written about in the newspaper if included in an electronic note to yourself or in a personal diary. This trend is viewed negatively for exposing what we think are private moments to public scrutiny in embarrassing ways that harm our relationships with others, despite having done nothing wrong. The other harm he cites is the increased stress we feel in having fewer places to let down our hair in private.
The legal challenge comes primarily from sexual harassment legislation that permits extensive investigation into the sexual behavior and thoughts of defendants and those they come into contact with. For public officials, this is compounded by the Independent Counsel statute. For everyone, a general restriction in constitutional liberties is involved. As a substitute, the author suggests letting these areas be covered by privacy statutes and precedents for protecting plaintiffs and defendants.
The technology challenge is related to electronic records, which can easily be captured (even if they are private). Court cases have permitted unsent messages and erased messages to be exposed in public. He encourages greater use of encryption, limits of court intervention, and letting employees have realms of electronic privacy at work.
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