Privacy has increasingly been considered one of the major individual rights. And yet, until recently the right to privacy has not been explicitly defined in almost any legal framework. In the common law jurisdictions the right to privacy has largely been slipped into the law through some high-profile legal cases, of which the most famous instance has been the "Roe v. Wade" case in the United States. This case granted the legal right to abortion by inferring a right to privacy, which for a century had been deemed to stem from "emanations of a penumbra" of the constitution. The right to privacy has been more systematically imbued into the laws of civil law jurisdictions, most notably in recent years the legal system of the European Union. All these examples hopefully illustrate the fact that privacy is not such an easy and straightforward topic as it may at first seem, and this book does a superb job of guiding the reader through many legal and cultural complexities of this intriguing subject.
The book is very good at contrasting different attitude towards privacy in the United States and Europe. However, there is much less attention that is paid to the privacy standard and norms in the rest of the World. The book also deals with the tension that is present between our ideals of privacy and free speech. In particular, it is not always easy to discern when the right to voice one's opinions and broadcast facts about others infringes on the expectation of privacy that we have about our personal lives. This becomes a serious issue for individuals who become public figures: does the fact that they are public figures somehow voids many of their privacy rights? One just needs to remember the tragic death of Princess Dianna to realize that these are not just academic debates, but can have potentially deadly real-life consequences.
Another big issue that this book covers is the challenges that are posed to privacy due to new communication technologies, and Internet in particular. On the surface it seems that Internet is a perfect heaven for people who want to explore new ideas, activities or communications. In the words of an old New Yorker cartoon, online no one knows that you are a dog. However, with the increased interconnectivity there is also an increased danger of various websites and companies gathering your personal information and using it later on for whatever purpose they deem fit. In many respects online websites know more about their users than even the most intrusive police states in the past. This book deals with all those new online privacy concerns, and how various jurisdictions and companies are dealing with them.
Overall, this is an interesting and well-balanced book that provides the reader with a history of thinking on the subject of privacy, as well as with some modern and practical considerations. It is a good starting point for anyone who is interested in exploring this subject.