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Dredging Up the Past: Lifelogging, Memory and Surveillance

Anita L. Allen

University of Pennsylvania Law School

University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 75, p. 47, 2008
U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 07-33

The term "lifelog" refers to a comprehensive archive of an individual's quotidian existence, created with the help of pervasive computing technologies. Lifelog technologies would record and store everyday conversations, actions, and experiences of their users, enabling future replay and aiding remembrance. Products to assist lifelogging are already on the market; but the technology that will enable people fully and continuously to document their entire lives is still in the research and development phase. For generals, edgy artists and sentimental grandmothers alike, lifelogging could someday replace or complement, existing memory preservation practices. Like a traditional diary, journal or day-book, the lifelog could preserve subjectively noteworthy facts and impressions. Like an old-fashioned photo album, scrapbook or home video, it could retain images of childhood, loved-ones and travels. Like a cardboard box time capsule or filing cabinet it could store correspondence and documents. Like personal computing software, it could record communications data, keystrokes and internet trails. The lifelog could easily store data pertaining to purely biological states derived from continuous self-monitoring of, for example, heart rate, respiration, blood sugar, blood pressure and arousal. To the extent that it preserves personal experience for voluntary private consumption, electronic lifelogging looks innocent enough, as innocent as Blackberries, home movies, and snapshots in silver picture frames. But lifelogging could fuel excessive self-absorption, since users would be engaged in making multimedia presentations about themselves all the time. The availability of lifelogging technology might lead individuals to overvalue the otherwise transient details of their lives. Furthermore, the potential would be great for incivility, emotional blackmail, exploitation, prosecution and social control by government surrounding lifelog creation, content and accessibility. Existing privacy law and policy do not suggest meaningful limits on unwanted uses of lifelogging data. This parry of the costs and benefits commences a fuller discussion of lifelogging's ethical and legal implications.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 28

Keywords: privacy, surveillance, lifelog, life log, sousveillance, memory

JEL Classification: B31, C88, D80

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Date posted: September 3, 2007 ; Last revised: September 3, 2013

Suggested Citation

Allen, Anita L., Dredging Up the Past: Lifelogging, Memory and Surveillance. University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 75, p. 47, 2008; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 07-33. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1010936

Contact Information

Anita L. Allen (Contact Author)
University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )
3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
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