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

3.9 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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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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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: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,612,561 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris 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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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: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is still remarkably relevant to current problems about privacy. It is the most detailed and well worked out discussion of the psychological effects of the "omniopticon"--everyone watching everyone. In contrast, most current critiques of contemporary surveillance focus on--the genuine and important--problems of the lack of free and informed consent to data collection, and the use of information to in ways that unjustifiably harm individuals and groups.
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Format: Paperback
After reading Rosen's bio of Louis Brandeis, this one was a bit of a disappointment, mixing a professional view of jurisprudence with a lot of amateur sociology. That may be reflective of the privacy topic. It doesn't seem that the SC or any government agency is doing any better. The book starts with the Brandeis-Warren paper defining privacy as the right to be left alone. We have not seen much progress since. Sexual harassment is hard to define and easy to spin, privacy in cyberspace is traded with security considerations, and libel laws are excessively vague. The book presents background from the prior century or two with John Wilkes, Lord Camden, Oscar Wilde, Queen Caroline and more recent cases of Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas and John Packwood.
J.S. Mill observed that the tyranny of social conformity is worse than the threat of law. It seems to me that we were better off when ostracism was effective. Though lacking modern concept of justice, it was more effective than subsequent legislation in controlling socially deviant entitlements and pregnancy. The book illustrates the inefficacy of legislation and jurisprudence to compensate for liberal sociology.
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