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Book Review: Information Privacy Law

Title: Information Privacy Law

Authors: Daniel J. Solove & Paul M. Schwartz

1205 pages. Wolters Kluwer.

Aspen Casebook Series

ISBN: 978-1454892755

Yes, this is a book review of a law school textbook (casebook). However, if you are not a lawyer or a law student, do not worry--this book is makes the law accessible to anyone that has a basic understanding of the United States' government, such as where laws come from and the idea of separation of powers.

That being said, let's put you in the position of a law student to explain how beneficial this book is. Today you are taking the final for your privacy law class. Like most of law-school classes, the final counts for 100% of your course grade. You open your exam and find just one question that you have to answer: What are Dr. Johnson's rights and liabilities? You have to answer this question in the context of a long story (a "fact pattern" in law-school speak), which follows:

Dr. Johnson is a psychiatrist for a state hospital. Recently, a patient of Dr. Johnson told her that he was having thoughts about stabbing his annoying neighbor. Dr. Johnson, not wanting anyone to get hurt, then called the neighbor, told the neighbor that the patient was planning on hurting him and that the patient was "crazy for having such thoughts." The neighbor confronted the patient with the information, and the patient said he was just venting to his psychairiatist and had no intention of actually doing anything. The patient, in turn, complains to management at the hospital. Management immediately fires Dr. Johnson, enters her locked office, and seizes all of her notes/belongings as evidence to justify the firing.

In this story, there are a lot of issues for you to talk about in your exam. Since the hospital was state-owned, you need to discuss whether management violated the Fourth Amendment by entering Dr. Johnson's office and seizing her stuff. Then, since Dr. Johnson revealed patient information to the neighbor, you must discuss whether she violated any HIPAA rules. Finally, there are potential claims that the patient has against Dr. Johnson directly. These include a suit for revealing his private thoughts and defamation for calling him "crazy."

If you read Information Privacy Law, you will do just fine on this test.

As you probably noticed in the story, there are a lot of different laws at play. This is because the United States does not have an overarching "privacy law." Rather, it follows a sectoral approach, meaning that there are different laws for different categories of information.

Indeed, Information Privacy Law really shines in the way that it highlights all these different laws in an understandable way. Really, it is quite amazing how many different "privacy laws" the United States has. HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) applies to medical information; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act applies to student records; the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act applies to information shared on the Internet by children younger than thirteen years old; the Stored Communications Act applies to obtaining the communications of others but not as they are actually in the process of being transmitted; etc.

While this book covers a lot of material, it does not ask its readers to already know a lot about the law. Instead, explains all of the necessary basics before going into any heavy detail. The book's discussion on Fourth Amendment searches and seizures is a great example. Fourth Amendment law is notorious for having many, many exceptions. Thankfully, the book's exploration of the Fourth Amendment starts with the basics. Really, the basics--it begins with what the Fourth Amendment's text actually says. The book then clearly lays out the general structure of Fourth Amendment law and eases its readers into any complicated material.

Further, the structure of the book helps guide readers through the content. Each chapter, which focuses on a particular type of information and privacy concern, begins with an overview of the topic and a description of the general rules. As the chapters move into the more dense content, the book provides either snipits of or full judicial opinions. The opinions serve to show the reader how the laws function in real-life situations. Finally, each section ends with "notes & questions," which provides a variety of additional information. The information ranges from additional quirks in the law, to follow-ups on what happened later to the people discussed in the judicial opinions, and beyond. The "questions" portions ask the readers to either apply the rules to novel scenarios or to contemplate the ultimate fairness of the law.

At this point in the review, you may be asking yourself, "What does all of this have to do with cyborg law and policy?" Well, similar to "privacy law," there is not a overarching, codified "cyborg law." Rather, the question for those thinking about or creating cyborg-technology, is "Does this impact any pre-existing laws?" And, really, the answer to that is only limited by one's imagination. For example, looking at future in-the-body technology (e.g. The Techno-Human Shell), it is almost certain that individuals' health information will automatically and continuously be transmitted over the Internet to various companies and doctors. Certainly, that implicates HIPAA. Although HIPAA's application may seem obvious, other more obscure issues will arise. For example, consider this website's discussion of the Cyborg-Technology Provider Relationship, which necessarily carries a duty of confidentiality similar to that raised in the hypothetical above by Dr. Johnson.

In the end, anyone exploring cyborg law and technology should read this book. Privacy law will impact cyborgs in countless ways, whether it in the application of current laws or the need to pass new laws. This book will expand the breadth of knowledge its readers have about privacy law; having a basic understanding of privacy-related issues is necessary to shape our cyborg future.

If you are interested in purchasing this book, please click the adjacent picture:

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"We cannot predict the future, but we can invent it."

-Dennis Gabor


Great technological advancements require well-considered complimentary laws. Unfortunately, those laws often arrive much later than the technologies. For example, the first speed-limit laws were not passed until 1901. By comparison, just in 1899 thirty American manufacturers produced 2,500 motor vehicles. 


While it is also true that premature laws may stifle the development of nascent, transformative technologies, the pace at which technology is now advancing and becoming more central to our everyday lives--for both inside and outside of our bodies--requires a reasoned, prospective approach to legislation. Particularly as technologies such as brain-computer interfaces and general artificial intelligence promise to bring about a paradigm shift in the fundamental functioning of society, delaying putting reasoned thought into the novel legal issues that will inevitably come follow is a recipe for chaos. 


As such, the purpose of this website is to build a legal foundation for the future. This is a place where we can imagine the unique legal issues that our Cyborg descendants will face and offer them well-thought-out solutions. 


So, whether you consider yourself a cyborg, transhuman, grinder, biohacker, futurist, lawyer, legislator, or forward thinker, let's join together to make our legal future a little less unknown. 

Man with a cybernetic prosthetic arm

"For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please."

-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (1943)

A glowing futuristic cyborg

"The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings capable of law, where there is no law, there is no freedom."