Privacy and the Limits of History
Neil M. Richards
Washington University in Saint Louis - School of Law
August 3, 2011
Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 21, No. 1, 2009
Washington U. School of Law Working Paper No. 09-06-05
A short review essay of Lawrence Friedman's "Guarding Life's Dark Secrets: Legal and Social Controls over Reputation, Propriety, and Privacy" (Stanford Press 2007). The essay argues that Friedman tells a nuanced and compelling story of the rise and fall of the "Victorian Compromise," a series of interlocking legal doctrines protecting the reputations of elites around the turn of the twentieth century. "Dark Secrets" undeniably advances our understanding of both the genesis of privacy law and the relationships between law and culture in the Gilded Age. As a work of legal history, it is an instant classic - a must-read for anyone interested in privacy law. But although Dark Secrets is first-rate legal history, it is less successful in its latter chapters when Friedman shifts his focus from the past to the present. The limits of Friedman's social criticism raise important questions about the ability of history alone to provide answers to social problems in our modern, networked information society.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 8Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: April 29, 2009 ; Last revised: August 4, 2011
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