Step one

Try your hand at summarizing Jill Lepore’s essay, “The Prism: Privacy in the Age of Publicity.” Keep in mind the tips Graff and Birkenstein provide:

  • Describe the essay in a way Lepore could recognize as being true
  • Play the “believing game” and be open to what Lepore is trying to do with this essay
  • Avoid just making a list of things she says. Instead, select details that go together and lead the reader towards a point (even if you’re not sure yet what that point might be).

Other tips:

  • Find out who Jill Lepore is. Knowing something about her background could help you understand the kinds of essays she writes and what she wants readers of this essay to think about.
  • Remember to include the author’s name and the title of the piece in your summary. It can be helpful sometimes to note when and where the article was published, too. Even if you don’t include that information in the summary itself, this information can help you clarify the relationship to other articles we’ll read, and to imagine the kind of audience she has in mind.
  • Look up the words and concepts you don’t know. Even familiar terms like “secrecy” or “privacy” are being used in particular ways in this essay.

Step two

Now raise two questions for discussion:

  • One should be about the content of the piece (something you want clarified, something that can probably be answered by looking in the text).
  • One should be analytical in nature (something that has more than one possible answer, a question the essay raises for you but which may not be answered in the essay itself).
  • Working through these questions gets you started on thinking about the response you want to make to Lepore and, possibly, how you should revise your summary later.

16 thoughts on “DQ2-Lepore

  1. “An extraordinary fuss about eavesdropping started in the spring of 1844,” states Jill Lepore in her article The Prism, published June 24, 2013. Eavesdropping is a problem to most people and started long ago. An Italian exile in London named Giuseppe Mazzini thought his mail was being opened. Mazzini wanted to prove his thoughts so he decided to fill an envelope with poppy seeds, hair and gravel and sent the mail to himself. when he got his letter it was sealed but the items were gone. This was the start of the eavesdropping age. Lepore states that E-mail is not any different than mail, and also that the N.S.A has been gathering online data for years. Lepore finalizes her Article saying “There is no longer a public self, even a rhetorical one. There are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design.”

    1.) In the article it talks about how “The proceeding cannot be english” I need clarification (end of the article)

    2.) How much further can the Gov. go with eavesdropping on us? will there be a point in time where it stops or will we become more and more trapped under surveillance?

  2. Jill Lepore’s, “The Prism” is a piece that digs into controversial invasions of privacy in the past. Recognizing different ways in which people’s secrecy has been diminished, Lepore views different acts of eavesdropping. In 1884, Giuseppe Mazzini suspected his mail to have been opened by the British Government and the organization, the Secret Department of the Post Office, was responsible. Lepore compares the opening of Mazzini’s mail to the National Security Agencies’ actions in “monitoring telephone, e-mail, and Internet use,…” and states that, “E-mail isn’t that different from mail” (Lepore). Further, Lepore describes the reactions to these “secret” actions, such as Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in 1890, writing “The Right to Privacy” in response to the Secret Department of the Post Office’s actions. Lepore brings to light the fact that similar situations have happened in history when it comes to having privacy and secrecy. She writes, “Something creepy happened when mystery became secular, secrecy became a technology, and privacy became a right” (Lepore).

    1. “There is no longer a public self, even a rhetorical one. There are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design.” — Is this referring to the fact that publicity has become something so common to want, (media, technology) etc?

    2. Has the N.S.A actually been effective doing what they are doing? Has there actually been any threats large enough, (or appeared so) to take action?

  3. “The Prism” written by Jill Lepore is an extraordinary piece which tries to further our knowledge on whether we really do have privacy. An example that Lepore uses in her paper is about an Italian exile who became worried that the British Government was opening his mail before he received it. Throughout the article Jill really tries to portray the importance of secrecy and privacy and how they are different in everyone’s eyes. In her eyes she seems to find that “secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves.” (Lepore) I agree with these statements because you can have secret amongst certain individuals and they all know about it, but outside of those people, no one knows what the secret is, but when you keep something private, it is only known to yourself. Lepore reaches further into describing her take on privacy and publicity when she notes that “only after it was no longer a mystery, and no longer a secret, only after it was no longer invisible, did it become private.” (Lepore) I believe that with this said she is telling us how she thinks that the difficulty of getting something to be private is hard to reach because it seems like privacy just keeps getting to be a concept that is getting farther and farther out of reach.

    1. Does Lepore think that publicity and secrecy are similar and if so, how?
    2. Why was it ever okay for the government to open somebody’s mail. If they did they today, what kind of consequences would they face, if any?

  4. In the article “The Prism,” Jill Lepore explores the relationship between privacy and eavesdropping in history. The problem of eavesdropping started as early as 1844, when Giuseppe Mazzini suspected that the British government was opening his mail. This lead to a public uproar, similar to the response that Americans have had over the surveillance conducted by the N.S.A. that “has been monitoring telephone, e-mail, and Internet use.” (Lepore) Lepore then argues that “the state for privacy always comes too late.” In other words, she believes that in history privacy has only been defended once the secret of eavesdropping was revealed and the damage had already been done. Lester then admires Warren and Brandeis’s article “The Right to Privacy,” agreeing that “there exists a legal right to be let alone.” American’s have the right under the Constitution to have privacy. She finishes her argument asserting that N.S.A. surveillance ruins “American values of freedom and privacy.”

    1. When Lepore states “there are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design,” what is meant by a prism of absurd design?
    2. What are some other relatively recent acts of eavesdropping that the government has committed? Why does the government need to keep this information secret?

  5. “The Prism”, written by Jill Lapore, goes into detail on if we really have privacy or not. Lapore describes the experience that an Italian exile, Giuseppe Mazzini, had with the British government in 1844. Mazzini came to conclusion that his mail had been opened. The British opening Mazzini mail is equivalent to the N.S.A monitoring people’s use of email and phone activity. “Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves” (Lapore). The N.S.A doesn’t allow much privacy considering they monitor the use of phone and Internet usage. In 1890 Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis wrote “The Right to Privacy.” Warren and Brandeis believe that there should be right to privacy because the right to privacy has become necessary. Brandeis predicted that technology would be the next way to monitor people. In 2001 the Patriot Act came into effect, which then allowed wiretapping of phone lines. In 2007 the Prism project began and it was to try to prevent terrorist attacks. Now that the public is aware that they are being watched and monitored they want everything to be more private, even though many people strive for publicity, on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for instance. Lapore writes, “American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity” (Lapore).

    1. Does Lapore feel there is still privacy and secrecy today?

    2. Lapore says, “American culture obsessed, at once, with being seen and with being hidden, a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.” Why is it that people are desperate for privacy and secrecy when they have social networks that reveal a lot about their lives on social networks?

  6. In “The Prism: Privacy in the Age of Publicity” author Jill Lepore starts out with an example from 1844 showing that there has been an issue with privacy and publicity for a while now. She continues with more examples through the ages showing the evolution of privacy and publicity and people’s opinions on the matter. Giuseppe Mazzini, exiled to London on numerous accounts, had the feeling that his mail was being read by the British Government and with a few clever indicators he discovered his presumption must be true. When the Home Security was asked if Mazzini’s mail was being opened and read the answer was a secret and the information was confidential. This caused the public to seek for the answer and ask questions. Reports later that year exposed that there was a Secret Department of the Post Office and that Mazzini’s mail was being read. The U.S. saw it as “a barbarian breach of honor and decency.” Lepore compares this to what the N.S.A is doing now tapping into our phones, emails and web browsing. Later Lepore mentioned Jeremy Bentham and how he believed that it is okay if the government opens the public’s mail, as long as they are told about it. Although Bentham saw publicity as a virtue Warren and Brandeis saw that people have the right to privacy. But with increasing technologies and ways to tap into people’s private lives the right to privacy is being breached. Here in the twenty first century “a world in which the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity” (Lepore) it is so easy and satisfying to know people’s private lives. We want our lives to be private and people to only see and acknowledge what we want but because everyone wants to know everything about anyone and everyone it is impossible. She ends the article with this “There is no longer a public self, even a rhetorical one. There are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design.” (Lepore) This means we live private lives, while watching others wanting to know, while they do the same. I agree with Lepore and see that it is difficult to keep private lives with technology today, the government, and peoples nosey behavior.
    1.) If the Constitution was meant to mark the end of an age of political mystery, why is government hiding so much now?
    2.) Has the N.S.A found anything throughout these past seven years that they have been tapping into the internet to prevent terrorism?

  7. Alex Touri

    “Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves (Lepore).” Jill Lepore’s essay, The Prism: Annals of Surveillance, written June of 2013, describes the recent revelations that the National Security Agency has been monitoring Americans’ phones, e-mails, and internet use and depicts the comparison of privacy and secrecy. Lepore shows the lessening of privacy and secrecy in our country through the timeline of historical analysis started in an axiom, or a self evident truth that doesn’t require proof.
    The first time someone questioned the government spying on our actions was in 1844 when Giuseppe Mazzini, a revolutionary, was convinced that the British parliament was opening his mail. He tested his theory by putting poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand into the envelopes and then mailed them to himself to find that when he opened the letters none of these things were inside. The Mazzini affair led to the first modern attack on official secrecy and eventually the house of Commons appointed a Committee of Secrecy to inquire into the State of the Law in respect of the detaining and opening of letters at the general post-office and into the mode under which the authority given for such detaining and opening has been exercised. This report revealed that indeed Mazzini’s mail had been opened and there existed something called the Secret Department of the Post Office. Warrants had been issued for reading the mail of the king’s subjects for centuries. The kings used to believe that it was their divine rights to spy on people and no one was to question this. The Secret Department of the Post Office had soon closed after this affair and then opened an even sneakier department with “better-kept secrets.”
    Lepore noted how the Obama Administration called the N.S.A’s surveillance program a “gross infringement” of the “right to privacy” however the Obama Administration contradicted itself and still defended the program and the fact that its existence had been kept secret.
    Lepore discovered through historical analysis that the relationship between secrecy and privacy is based off of the emergence of new technologies for the exposure of secrets. In other words, the more technology improves, the less privacy you will have and the more resources the government has to watch your every move.
    In Lepore’s essay, The Constitution was brought up – something that was written for the people by the people. It was even stated that “in a republic, there ought to be no mysteries of state: all was to be revealed to the people (Lepore.)” Thomas Jefferson agreed with this, he believed that there should be a separation between Church and State – nothing should be hidden.
    Jeremy Bentham believed that “secrecy is an instrument of conspiracy (Lepore.)” Bentham believed that secrecy in the government shouldn’t exist – the government should be transparent. He said that the people are incapable of judging anything so thus we are ignorant, this shouldn’t be the case and the government’s actions shouldn’t be a secret. Bentham believed that publicity could educate the public – elected officials would behave better if they were being watched. If everything was revealed it would stop people from doing bad things that they probably wouldn’t do if it wasn’t being hidden. In 1844, during the Parliamentary debate, some of the members of Parliament agreed with Bentham that publicity is the enemy of secrecy. “Secrecy is but another word for fear (Lepore.)” Bentham’s debate greatly influenced how Parliament and the public responded to the Mazzini situation – they wanted to end secrecy. This was also how Americans came to understand how democracy works – “where rulers are elected and the secrets of the state are made public.”
    As technology broadened, so did the need for privacy. “Nineteenth-century Americans were obsessed with the idea of privacy and the physical boundaries that marked it, like the walls of a house, and, equally, with the holes in those walls, like the mail slots cut into doors (Lepore.)” Lepore used Edgar Allen Poe’s writing to describe mystery. The beginning of Poe’s stories all seemed like mysteries, but at the end of the stories, nothing remained hidden, everything was solved – “Envelopes must be opened (Lepore.)”
    In the Nineteenth-century, many parts of the United States marked the point when universal decipherment was met – most people could read and write which was terrifying because this meant secrets could no longer stay secrets anymore – everything was published in the newspaper at this time.
    In 1890, there were two Boston lawyers, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis, who published an article called “The Right to Privacy.” One of the lawyers, Warren, became outraged when his private family business including deaths in the family, was published in the newspapers. He believed that his family was violated and a death shouldn’t be made public – it was an invasion of privacy. The lawyers’ essay “lies at the heart of every legal decision that has been made about the privacy ever since (Lepore.)” They believed that privacy wasn’t always necessary, it became more necessary with the advancement of technology like newspapers and photographs which made it easier to find out information. The more publicity the more need for privacy. The more you lose privacy the more you want it. “Making public the deliberations of Congress was a public good; making public the names of the mourners was not (Lepore.)” The government is for the people therefore it should not be secret. “The Right to Privacy” is a public declaration against the publicity or modernity. To the lawyers, Warren and Brandeis, invasions of privacy subjected them to mental pain and distress and this invasion could harm the soul and deaden our minds.
    “Secrecy became a technology and privacy became a right (Lepore.)” After 9/11 the government expanded the authorization of surveillance to fight terrorism using the Patriot Act of 2001 and through the Prism project which began in 2007, the government can tap directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. internet companies. “There is no longer a public self, even a rhetorical one. There are only lots of people protecting their privacy, while watching themselves, and one another, refracted, endlessly, through a prism of absurd design (Lepore.)” The more that we have technology, the less that we have privacy. “For all that has changed in the past few centuries, much that happens in government remains cloaked in mystery, if only because cloaking a secret in mystery is a very good way to hide the exercise of power (Lepore.)” I feel that this means that there is no way that citizens will ever really have their privacy. Our government will always have secrets, because to reveal these secrets would mean to give up power.

    Discussion Questions:
    1) Through the Prism project, is the government really able to tap into several internet companies and are the companies able to tell their customers about this feature?

    2) As long as technology continues to advance, will citizens every really get their privacy back?

  8. Writer Jill Lepore examines the dispute over privacy and publicity in her article “The Prism: Annals of Surveillance” published in the New Yorker in June of 2013. Not only is Lepore a writer but she is also an American History professor at Harvard University. She takes this issue of privacy and looks into its history first. The matter first transpired in the spring of 1844 when a man named Giuseppe Mazzini suspected his mail was being opened by the British government. This topic arose yet again in 2013 when Edward Snowden informed the country that the NSA had been monitoring our every move from telephone calls to email threads. How many times can our past repeat itself? Lepore proclaims “the state for privacy always comes too late.” By the time we realize we are being spied on, the information is out there and the damage has been done. It seems we will never live in a private world because “the only thing more cherished than privacy is publicity.” (Lepore)

    1. Are Google and Facebook CEO’s being honest when they say U.S. government cannot access their server?
    2. If we as Americans are so obsessed with our privacy why do we love publishing our lives on social media sites?

  9. In the article “The Prism” Jill Lepore starts off with the case of Giuseppe Mazzini, a man who was exiled from Italy and lived in London. Mazzini was convinced that the British government was opening his mail so he sent himself letters containing sand, hair, and poppy seeds. To his suspicions, he found that the letters he sent to himself no longer contained those items. Lepore takes the privacy issues of the past and relates them to the future issues that we deal with in the United States. We get the same responses from our government that Mazzini got when asking about the methods of surveillance; “the program is classified” (Lepore). At the time of the conflicts with Mazzini, the New York Tribune stated that the act of opening his mail was “a barbarian breach of honor and decency.” This contradicts the actions that the government performs on the citizens of the United States today. Lepore explores the recent quarrels with the NSA and relates them to the Mazzini case. A major topic of Lepore’s article is the relation between privacy and secrecy. She claims that “secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves” (Lepore). This is to say that a person can have a secret that very few people know about, but their privacy is what maintains that secret. If someone was to have a secret, but their privacy was breached, then they would no longer have a secret. Lepore delves into this topic and the privacy issues revolving around the government.

    1) ” In this world, we chronicle our lives on Facebook while demanding the latest and best form of privacy protection – ciphers of numbers and letters – so that no one can violate the selves that we have so entirely contrived to expose.” — What does it mean when she says “so that no one can violate the selves we have so entirely contrived to expose”?

    2) If the NSA continues to eavesdrop and watch our every move, is there a point that we will become used to this and let everything about us be exposed to the world?

  10. Jill Lepore, in the article ““The Prism: Annals of Surveillance,” discusses the origins of the dispute over our apparent right to privacy and the barriers people are trying to set up in the present to protect that right. Many today believe that, to a certain extent, we are privileged to some degree of privacy. This belief has been carried through the centuries. Lepore presents readers with the example of Giuseppe Mazzini, an exile of Italy living in London in 1844. He had been under the impression that his mail was being opened without his permission. After conducting an experiment to prove his suspicions, Mazzini found that his mail was, in fact, being opened. He took the matter to a higher power to be addressed and fixed. Since then, questions and outrage over privacy has never ceased to occupy the minds of people. In her article, Lepore connects the times of the past to the present by expressing how nothing has changed from back then. Today’s technology has only replaced letters with e-mail and provided means, such as Facebook, to make privacy more vulnerable than it previously had been. Also, with time, the world has become modernized. Because of modernity, Lepore explains how people have been subjected to shifting ideas regarding the meaning of the terms of publicity and privacy. Lepore states that time has not only altered the definition of publicity and privacy, but it has changed the attitudes of people as well. She explains how privacy and solidarity have almost become something of a necessity for people while, at the same time, is contradicted by their desire for publicity. We claim to want privacy, however, we post pictures and information about ourselves on the internet for the world to see. What was once a battle between an infraction of one man’s privacy has spiraled into a war between what the lines of privacy are and how far the government is willing, and allowed, to cross these lines to obtain the information they seek.

    1. According to Lepore, how has the definition of publicity changed over time and how is that important to the message she is conveying in her article?

    2. Would you, as an American, relinquish some of your privacy rights to the government if it meant securing not only your safety, but the safety of society as a whole?

  11. In the article “The Prism” written by Jill Lepore that was published Jun 24, 2013 we see she writes telling the history of the British government reading Giuseppe Mazzini mail. Mazzini is an Italian Exile who moved to London. He soon begins to become suspicious of his mail being opened by the British Government before he even has a chance to see it himself. He went into an investigation and realized he was a victim of “post-office espionage”. As Jill continued throughout the article she would compare secrecy and privacy, and if Mazzini lost all of it by the government giving themselves the rights to read his mail. “With regard to historical analysis, the relationship between secrecy and privacy can be stated in an axiom.” (Lepore). I agree with what she says here because a lie in the past becomes history, and is our right to have privacy. Secrecy is something you want hidden from others, while privacy is something you want to keep to yourself. This is hard to do as Lepore goes on about how the N.S.A has been taking away our privacy, by reading our emails, monitoring telephones, and what you search on the internet. She explains throughout the article that the government slowly wants to take away the “The Right to Privacy.”

    1. Is there such thing as privacy and secrecy anymore with how technologically advanced we have become as a country?
    2. Do people like Jill Lepore believe writing these types of essays will soon make a difference? Maybe another “Right to Privacy” act?

  12. In “The Prism: Privacy in the Age of Publicity”, Jill Lepore starts by talking about, in 1844,Giuseppe Mazzini, who was exiled to London due to his previous history, thought his mail was being read by Parliament. So, he used poppy seeds, strands of hair, and grains of sand and put into envelopes sealed with wax, and then sent them to himself. When the letters came back, they contained no poppy seeds, no hair, and no grains of sand thus his theory turned out to be true. Mazzini had his friend, Thomas Duncombe, a Member of Parliament, submit a petition to the House of Commons in order to know if Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, really had ordered the opening of Mazzini’s mail. Graham said the answer was a secret which created great controversy and causing the general public to ask questions. Lepore begins to talk about the N.S.A tapping into our telephone, e-mail, and Internet. Later on, which I thought was an interesting point, Jeremy Bentham believed that it is acceptable to tap into our telephone, e-mail, and Internet as long as they are told about it beforehand. “’The intensity and complexity of life, attendant upon advancing civilization,’ Warren and Brandeis wrote, ‘have rendered necessary some retreat from the world, and man, under the refining influence of culture, has become more sensitive to publicity, so that solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.’” The thing about privacy is that it has become a necessity to have as things become more and more in the public eye.
    1) Does Lepore believe that both publicity and privacy can truly coexist or can there only be one?
    2) How far would the Government go to get information?

  13. “The Prism” by Jill Lepore takes an incident from the year 1844 that dealt with the invasion of privacy and compared that occurrence to the events that America is facing today. When Giuseppe Mazzini suspected that the government was eavesdropping and opening his mail before himself, he decided to test them. Mazzini caught the government in their tracks by putting tiny items into envelopes and mailed them to himself to see if those items would still be in the envelopes when he received them again. Not to his surprise, the government had indeed been opening his mail because those items were no where to be found when he finally received his mail.
    Lepore found ties between the Mazzini incident and the privacy issues in the United States today.
    “For all that has changed in the past few centuries, much that happens in government remains cloaked in mystery, if only because cloaking a secret in mystery is a very good way to hide the exercise of power.” This is truly what I believe the government prides themselves in today. The government can be so powerful, but if the citizens of America don’t know exactly how powerful the government is, then they can still take charge when the time is right.

    1. “Secrecy is what is known, but not to everyone. Privacy is what allows us to keep what we know to ourselves.” I still need a little clarification on this statement in the article. The definition just seem too similar.
    2. Will there ever be a time when we can’t do anything privately? How many more things can the government look into with us?

  14. In Jill Lepore’s essay, “The Prism: Privacy in the Age of Publicity”, Lepore discusses the historical evidence behind cases of classified government information. As far back as 1844 governments have been intruding on peoples’ right to privacy. In the case of Giuseppe Mazzini, the British government was opening his mail. Once he tested and concluded that this was actually the case, he petitioned to find out the reason why. The answer; was a secret. Once the public found out, it caused an uproar. Leading to laws against opening mail at the post office. This is similar to what N.S.A. is doing in the United States, monitoring telephone calls, e-mails, and internet usage. Do we even have privacy these days? As technology advances, how long will our privacy remain private?

    1.) Is privacy actually a right?
    2.) When people post things on social media, do they actually believe it is kept secret? If we strive for privacy so much, why is our entire life published for everyone to see?

  15. In the article “The Prism: Annals of Surveillance,” Jill Lepore talks about an Italian exile in London in 1844, Giuseppe Mazzini who believed the government was reading his mail. Mazzini had become suspicious that his mail had been opened before it made it to him, so he decided to mail himself grains of sand, poppy seeds and strands of hair only to find when his letters arrived they were empty. He wanted to know if the British government was prying into people’s private letters, but was told that the answer to his question was secret. Questions are still being raised about surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency. These questions are getting the same response as Mazzini did; it is classified. Technology has opened up the availability of people’s private information. Privacy is becoming a necessity as everything is becoming more and more public.

    1. In what was does Lepore see publicity, secrecy and privacy as being similar?
    2. Is the surveillance ever going to stop or is it just going to continue to grow until nothing is able to be kept private?

  16. In Jill Lepore’s essay, “The Prism: Privacy in the Age of Publicity”, Lepore brings the reads back to 1844 where a man named Giuseppe Mazzini thought that the Italian government was opening his mail and reading it. He tested his theory by adding sand and hairs inside his envelop and sending it to himself. When he received the envelop back, there was no sand or hair, he knew they had opened his mail. In petition to find out why the government gave him no answer. Lepore ties in what happened to Mazzini’s privacy to the privacy issues in America today. How N.S.A taps into phone line, reads our emails or text messages. She talks about how the government is taking away our privacy and how they want to take away “The Right of Privacy”, but she also states that the meaning of privacy and publicity have changed over time and do not mean what they use to mean anymore.

    1.) If the meaning of privacy has changed over time, what is the meaning of it now?
    2.) Do people actually want the right to privacy or the idea of it?

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