A Poor Mother’s Right to Privacy: A Review
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Collecting personal data is a feature of daily life. Businesses, advertisers, agencies, and law enforcement amass massive reservoirs of our personal data. This state of affairs—what I am calling the “collection imperative”—is justified in the name of efficiency, convenience, and security. The unbridled collection of personal data, meanwhile, leads to abuses. Public and private entities have disproportionate power over individuals and groups whose information they have amassed. Nowhere is that power disparity more evident than for the state’s surveillance of the indigent. Poor mothers, in particular, have vanishingly little privacy. Whether or not poor mothers receive subsidized prenatal care, the existential state of poor mothers is persistent and indiscriminate state surveillance.
Professor Khiara Bridges’s book, The Poverty of Privacy Rights, advances the project of securing privacy for the most vulnerable among us. It shows how the moral construction of poverty animates the state’s surveillance of poor mothers, rather than legitimate concerns about prenatal care. It argues that poor mothers have a constitutional right not to be known if the state’s data collection efforts demean and humiliate them for no good reason. The Poverty of Privacy Rights provides an important lens for rethinking the data collection imperative more generally. It supplies a theory not only on which a constitutional right to information privacy can be built but also on which positive law and norms can develop. Concepts of reciprocity may provide another analytical tool to understand a potential right to be as unknown to government as it is to us.