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Accidental Privacy Spills

James Grimmelmann, New York Law School

Abstract

The realm of privacy law has more crimes than criminals, more wrongs than wrongdoers. Some invasions of privacy are neither intentional nor negligent; it's easy to recognize the harm, but hard to pin the blame. Laurie Garrett attended the World Economic Forum as a journalist and wrote a private email to a few close friends, only to see that email end up on a widely-read weblog.

This essay tells the story of that inevitable accident: an "accident" in that it needn't have happened, but "inevitable" in that there's no principled way to prevent similar misunderstandings from recurring, again and again and again. The essay considers social, technical, and legal responses, but concludes that none of them can prevent the informal forwarding behavior that led to the leak of Garrett's email without cutting off many overwhelmingly beneficial uses of email. The consequences for privacy and democracy may be unfortunate.

Suggested Citation

James Grimmelmann. "Accidental Privacy Spills" Journal of Internet Law Jul. 2008: 3-12.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/james_grimmelmann/17

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