Daniel Solove Discusses "Information and Exclusion" with Lior Strahilevitz

By Daniel J. Solove

Posted on September 29, 2011

Below are a few excerpts from Professor Daniel Solove’s conversation with Professor Lior Strahilevitz. The full write-up of his talk, Q&A with Lior Strahilevitz about Information and Exclusion, was originally published on Concurring Opinions.

Lior Strahilevitz
, Deputy Dean and Sidley Austin Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School recently published a brilliant new book, Information and Exclusion (Yale University Press 2011). Like all of Lior’s work, the book is creative, thought-provoking, and compelling. There are books that make strong and convincing arguments, and these are good, but then there are the rare books that not only do this, but make you think in a different way. That’s what Lior achieves in his book, and that’s quite an achievement.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Lior about the book. 
Daniel J. Solove (DJS): What is the central idea in your book?
Lior Jacob Strahilevitz (LJS): The core idea is that asymmetric information largely determines which mechanisms are used to exclude people from particular groups, collective resources, and services.  When the person who controls a resource knows a lot about the people who wish to use it, she will make decisions about who gets to access it.  Where she lacks that information, she’ll develop a strategy that forces particular groups to exclude themselves from the resource, based on some criteria.  There’s a historical ebb and flow between these two sorts of strategies for exclusion, but we seem to be in a critical transition period right now thanks to the decline of practical obscurity in the information age.
As you’ve written, there are “digital dossiers” on all of us, which are made increasingly available at very low costs.  Facial recognition software, combined with massive public and private photo databases are eroding privacy in public spaces.  DNA databases are growing.  Behavioral profiling and data mining are exploding.  Location-tracking through GPS-enabled smartphones is becoming commonplace.  So the dynamics of exclusion are shifting once again. . . away from strategies that bundle access to collective resources with disamenities that are unpalatable to members of the group targeted for exclusion.  The government and the private sector have lots of information about individuals once again, so they can sort people themselves rather than trying to induce people to self-assess and self-sort.  My book explores what’s at stake with this shift from one form of exclusion to another.  You can achieve homogeneity with either strategy, but the different strategies produce very different sets of costs and benefits for the people being excluded, the people being included, and the people doing the excluding.
DJS: You have very nuanced views about privacy, but my sense is that you see a small role for privacy in a well-functioning society — not a large one.  Is that correct?  And you argue that we need to distinguish between instances where privacy is desirable and areas where it is counterproductive.  How are we to make these determinations?  Do you have a set of guiding factors or considerations?
LJS: I believe that privacy is an intermediate good.  It can be a means toward important ends, but is never an end unto itself.  Privacy can be undesirable when it results in racial discrimination, or cyber-bullying, or fraud, or sexual harassment in public spaces.  Privacy is worth fighting for when it facilitates human intimacy, or when it nurtures representative democracy, or when it prompts people to seek out medical attention, or when it fosters experimentation that leads to self-discovery.  A satisfying answer to the question, “What’s the benefit of more privacy?” has to be something beyond “more privacy.”  Advocates and scholars sometimes fail to appreciate this essential aspect of information privacy.

To read more of the discussion between Professors Solove and Strahilevitz, see Q&A with Lior Strahilevitz about Information and Exclusion.
The preceding excerpts from Q&A with Lior Strahilevitz about Information and Exclusion are re-published on TAP with permission by its author, Professor Daniel Solove. The post was originally published on Concurring Opinions on September 28, 2011.


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  • Daniel J. Solove
  • George Washington University
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    Washington, DC 20052

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