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)
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