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The Unwanted Gaze:
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 [via]