June 7, 2013

The recent revelations about the scope of the Obama administration’s secret surveillance programs have at least one silver lining: provoking a national debate about the right to privacy and prompting people to learn more about its ethical, legal and practical dimensions. Readers approaching this fascinating subject for the first time might want to begin with the best article on privacy ever written: Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis’s “The Right to Privacy,” first published in the Harvard Law Review in 1890 and available online. After that warm-up, here are some of my favorite privacy books.

PRIVACY AND FREEDOM by Alan F. Westin (1967). The best book on privacy written in the late 20th century. Westin identifies four states of privacy: solitude, intimacy, reserve and anonymity. In addition to inspiring many of the privacy reforms of the 1970s and 1980s — such as those championed by the Church Commission and enacted in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — Westin’s book was the central inspiration for my two books about privacy (obviously personal favorites as well!): “The Unwanted Gaze: The Destruction of Privacy in America” (2000) and “The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age” (2004).

THE FALL OF PUBLIC MAN by Richard Sennett (1974). Sennett brilliantly invokes history and sociology on behalf of his arresting thesis: that as the private has usurped the public sphere, individuals and society have suffered.

THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNET AND HOW TO STOP IT by Jonathan Zittrain (2008). In addition to illuminating how the Internet works, Zittrain explores the transition from what he calls Privacy 1.0, where threats to privacy came mostly from data stored in government and corporate databases, to Privacy 2.0, where the data is generated, recorded and shared by individuals. Zittrain helps illuminate why the government and the private sector can share information so easily, and why the law seems to make that easier, not harder.

UNDERSTANDING PRIVACY by Daniel J. Solove (2008). In the tradition of Westin, Solove offers an influential new taxonomy of privacy for the Internet Age: information collection, processing, dissemination and invasion.

CONSTITUTION 3.0: FREEDOM AND TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGEedited by Jeffrey Rosen and Benjamin Wittes (2011). A collection of essays by legal scholars and commentators who imagine what the privacy and free speech landscape will look like in 2030 and propose some legal and technological solutions for protecting constitutional values in light of changing technologies. Some of those solutions might avoid future surveillance controversies like the one we’re faced with now.

Jeffrey Rosen is the president and chief executive of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and a law professor at George Washington University. He is legal affairs editor of The New Republic.