Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Privacy: Its Constitution and Vicissitudes - A Half-Century on Privacy, Law and the Contemporary Workplace: New Challenges and Directions

Document type Article
Author Finkin, Matthew W.
Journal Canadian Labour and Employment Law Journal
Volume 18
Date 2014-2015
Pages 349-378


Half a century ago, on the verge of the Information Age, the sociologist Edward Shils took the measure of how matters stood with privacy. He argued that privacy was being systematically engulfed by societal elites - government, journalists, business, and social scientists - even as they sought privacy for themselves. He saw a passive populace, indifferent to the intrusion, and a near- total absence of protective law. This essay reflects on what Shils saw from the perspective of a half-century's experience. It argues that the populace is no longer passive, that the public's concern for privacy as consumers has had a rip- ple effect in a concern for privacy in employment. Nor is the law totally absent; but the legislative approach has been piecemeal, attending only to those per- ceived abuses that most strike the public ire. In terms of the common law, in its address to the large lacunae left by legislation, the legal establishment - repre- sented by the American Law Institute - continues to serve as a handmaiden to those business interests that had and would continue to engulf employee privacy.