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General Issue

Disembodied Data and Corporeal Violation: Our Gendered Privacy Law Priorities and Preoccupations

Author

Jessica Lake

Whether one is more (or less) concerned with issues of image rights or the use of online tracking mechanisms by retailers, the role of CCTV in city streets, the ability to access a safe abortion, the media’s publication of salacious stories, the ability of government agencies to collect personal information, or the abuse and harassment of individuals in the home or online is likely to be influenced by social and historical experience. In this article I argue that such experience and consequent investments in ‘privacy’ are also gendered and should be recognised as such by legal scholars of privacy, legislators and courts. Privacy law relates inextricably to the self and calls into question how we (as individuals and groups) envision, articulate and perform our sense of self. It marks out boundaries between persons and perceived sources of power and oppression. This article examines three periods of heated privacy law debate (mid 19th century, turn of 20th century and 1960s/70s) and demonstrates that whereas men’s privacy priorities primarily focused on controlling and concealing information about themselves; women’s privacy issues mostly centred on protecting against violations of themselves. Masculine privacy focuses on the ways in which disembodied or abstract data – guarded by or as forms of property – poses challenges to professional and public reputations. Feminine constructions of privacy are preoccupied with invasions of the autonomy and dignity of embodied selves. In order to further develop privacy law in Australia, we must first recognize that gender fundamentally influences our paradigms and priorities of privacy protection – as seen in pressing debates about online consumer data protection and ‘revenge pornography’.

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