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Digital Dossiers

Sharing information, conducting business, and communicating via the Internet have made many aspects of life increasingly convenient. Daniel J. Solove, associate professor of law and author of The Digital Person: Technology and Privacy in the Information Age (New York University Press, 2004), says that convenience comes at a price.

Every time an individual surfs the Internet, databases create profiles of purchases, activities, interests, and preferences—“digital dossiers” as Solove calls them—that are used for credit checks, marketing strategies, and personal investigations. While information gathering does have its purposes, Solove explains why these profiles pose a threat to personal privacy and security and says they open the door to identity theft. Since Sept. 11, 2001, Solove says the government has tapped into stores of information collected by businesses and used it to profile individuals for criminal or terrorist activity—practices he says have “Orwellian and Kafkaesque dangers.”

The Digital Person is a far-reaching examination of how digital dossiers are shaping our lives. Solove has persuasively reconceptualized privacy for the digital age,” says Brooklyn Law School professor Paul Schwartz.

From a legal perspective, Solove explores how current practices match up with the Fourth Amendment and outlines how current laws fail to keep up with the technological pace. Solove says increased public awareness and involvement could curtail the problems involved with information gathering and could help bring about change—change that cannot be achieved through individual lawsuits, he says, but rather through implementing a regulatory system such as the FDA or the EPA. Harmony between the conveniences and concerns brought about by Internet communications can be achieved with reform, Solove says. It’s a matter of “restructuring the architecture.”

Uncovering the Buried Truth

“The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred in their bones.” Professor James E. Starrs borrows Shakespeare’s lines from Julius Caesar to illustrate his interest in solving cold cases—some of them hundreds of years old—in A Voice for the Dead: A Forensic Investigator’s Pursuit of the Truth in the Grave (Putnam, 2005). Written with Katherine Ramsland, the book explores several cases that Starrs helped to solve by examining bodies long in the grave using technology and forensic science practices.

A professor of forensic sciences and a research professor of law, Starrs describes the cases from historical, field, and legal perspectives. “Utilizing modern-day forensic scientific techniques and top-flight experts, and applying his vast legal experiences and intellectual brilliance, Starrs has made significant and unique contributions to our criminal justice system,” says Cyril H. Wecht, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and coroner of Alleghany County in Pennsylvania. “A Voice for the Dead is a fascinating real-life discussion of exhumation autopsies that makes fictional television programs seem like fairy tales for children.”

The exhumations he recounts include the case of Alfred Packer, a Colorado prospector accused of cannibalism in the 1870s; the body believed to be that of Jesse James; and Mary Sullivan, an alleged victim of Albert DeSalvo, a suspect in the Boston Strangler cases of the 1960s.

While the scandalous nature of the lives and deaths of these and other individuals lend drama to the book, the exhumations themselves spark legal and moral debate. Starrs chronicles the issues raised by the government and the descendants of the deceased and how he justifies disturbing their final rest. Starrs seeks to balance respect for the dead with the truth for the living—as he writes, “the lawyer in me says they deserve their day in court.”

Information Redux

Due to technological advancements such as the Internet and cell phones, the speed and volume of communications are markedly greater than they were in the recent past—not since the invention of the telephone and the telegraph has information technology changed everyday life so dramatically in so short a time frame. This is, as professor of telecommunications, public policy and public administration Gerald W. Brock puts it, The Second Information Revolution (Harvard University Press, 2003).

Brock traces the history of the revolution from World War II through the unstable Internet economy of the 1990s. He shows how the revolution started as an interdependent web of technological advances, entrepreneurial innovations, and changes in public policy—and how innovations in radar, computers, and electronic elements of defense projects translated into rapid expansion in the private sector, despite some opportunities blocked by regulatory policies. Examining the delicate balance between fostering technological growth and protecting consumers and businesspeople, the author presents a thorough history of the changing ways in which we share and process communication.

“This book is sweeping and detailed, and provides a comprehensive and integrated treatment of the information and communication industries,” says Howard Shelanski, professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley.”

—Laura Ewald

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