by Raizel Liebler
Neil Richards’ Intellectual Privacy: Rethinking Civil Liberties in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press 2015) is an eminently readable book about privacy and the First Amendment — both where the discussion has been and where it is going (in the States).
This book does a great job of laying out the history of privacy — and where things mostly stopped progressing in an orderly way — with tort law. Even if you disagree with Richards’ analysis of where the law should go, the first section lays out our problematic struggle with the borders of privacy law.
The second section argues for the idea of intellectual privacy — freedom of thought, the right to read, and the right to communicate in confidence. If you are wondering where issues like privacy around our physical bodies rather than our minds, that’s not the focus of this book. If you think that such a line is impossible to draw, then the argument here won’t please you. Especially at a point where copyright is frequently used as the only successful sword and shield to deal with photo leak issues — as well as other issues that primarily concern privacy bodies of women and girls, thinking about thoughts may be viewed as too esoteric to protect privacy.
But Richards does think about how there are definitely times or zones of privacy. The focus is on when information is shared … or not. At a time where there is less and less privacy or private time, the idea that ideas need privacy is perhaps radical. Richards argues that “intellectual privacy matters because it gives new and possibly heretical ideas room to develop and grow before they are ready for publication. Intellectual privacy gives us the ability to make up our minds about controversial ideas by ourselves or with a few trust confidants, free from being watched or discovered by others.”
When so much life is always on, ready for the next hot take, giving ideas privacy to breathe is quite the statement.
Not enough for you? Try this book talk by Richards held at the Berkman Center.