Kafka and Orwell
The most widely discussed metaphor in the discourse of information privacy is George Orwell's depiction of Big Brother in 1984. The use of the Big Brother metaphor to understand the database privacy problem is hardly surprising. Big Brother has long been the metaphor of choice to characterize privacy problems, and it has frequently been invoked when discussing police search tactics,1 wiretapping and video surveillance,2 and drug testing.3 It is no surprise, then, that the burgeoning discourse on information privacy has seized upon this metaphor.
With regard to computer databases, however, Big Brother is incomplete as a way to understand the problem. Although the Big Brother metaphor certainly describes particular facets of the problem, it neglects many crucial dimensions. This oversight is far from inconsequential, for the way we conceptualize a problem has important ramifications for law and policy.
A metaphor, as legal scholar Steven Winter aptly defines it, “is the imaginative capacity by which we relate one thing to another.”4 In