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Computer-mediated environments pose a special challenge to our legal and cultural protections of privacy. These environments are unprecedented in the way commercially valuable information can be generated in their very use. The ease and low cost with which electronic information can be gathered and disseminated in these environments have led many to advocate regulation protecting privacy interests from commercial encroachment. At the same time, the use of digital communications to support criminal or terrorist activities have led others to advocate regulation allowing law enforcement agencies to eavesdrop or intercept. The cultural history of the Internet as a self-regulating, almost anarchical, environment provides an interesting background to this issue. Many writers have looked to statutory law for a solution to the issues of control over, and commercial or governmental use of information about individuals. This article contends that the current discussions have overlooked the potential of common law and market forces to satisfactorily balance the conflicting interests.


This is the Author's Accepted Manuscript of the published article. Cooper, S. (1997). Common law, and privacy in computer-mediated environments. The New Jersey Journal of Communication, 5, 167-177, as published in the THE NEW JERSEY JOURNAL OF COMMUNICATION, 1997, copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at: