The Fight for Privacy: Protecting Dignity, Identity, and Love in the Digital Age

Privacy and Security, Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Media and Content

Article Snapshot


Danielle Citron


W. W. Norton & Company, 2022


Intimate privacy concerns the extent to which others may access information about our health, sexuality, gender, and close relationships. The law does not adequately protect intimate privacy.

Policy Relevance

Lawmakers could enact comprehensive privacy laws to better address nonconsensual distribution of private images.

Main Points

  • Firms encourage consumers to disclose as much information about their intimate lives as possible; smart devices can track every movement and activity in our home.
  • Most victims of nonconsensual pornography, including surreptitiously taken images and deepfake videos, are women.
  • High-profile government actors inspired by authoritarian regimes use fake and real sex tapes and other intimate data to intimidate and control political opponents.
  • In the United States, intelligence hubs called “fusion centers” are run by police and private firms to collect and process massive quantities of data; surveillance disproportionally burdens immigrants and racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.
  • Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act immunizes online services from liability for illegal content posted by users, and sites that host nonconsensual intimate images are thriving in the United States; by contrast, in Europe, sites are liable for third-party illegal content if they know of it and fail to remove it quickly.
  • Intimate privacy should be recognized as a civil right.
  • Lawmakers should take a comprehensive approach to violations of intimate privacy.
    • Courts should allow victims to sue violators of intimate privacy using pseudonyms, to prevent further violations of victims’ privacy rights.
    • Law should support victims in ensuring that intimate images are removed.
  • The law should criminalize posting of images when the defendant knows the subject of the images does not consent, or is reckless in determining whether the subject consented, and when the images are not of public concern.
  • Section 230 should be reformed to preserve immunity only for online service providers who adopt reasonable and responsible content moderation practices.
    • Platforms should clarify what types of speech are prohibited.
    • Users should be able to report violations easily.
    • Platforms should keep information that allows perpetrators to be identified.
  • Federal lawmakers should adopt privacy legislation that requires firms to act as data guardians and that allows collection of intimate data only with a legitimate business purpose, and only when individuals have given meaningful consent.

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