The right to read alone

A dimension of privacy and a democratic challenge 


Information and communications technologies provide means to monitor individuals’ reading habits in an unprecedented way. In an age of e-books, tablets and e-libraries, the reader comfortably seated in his armchair is no longer alone; and it becomes almost impossible to select reading material anonymously. Digital content publishers and retailers are now able to collect and process very detailed information about readers: the search terms we use to find books, the amount of time we spend on a given page, what we have read in the past, how we engage with particular works, and when we get bored. Even annotations and highlights are analysed. All these data open a window into the reader’s thoughts, opinions and feelings.

In this paper, I propose to define the right to read alone as the freedom to access, select and assimilate written materials without any kind of scrutiny or any form of surveillance from the State or private companies. I argue that this right is a dimension of privacy.

For a long time, people could ensure this right was respected by carving out for themselves an intimate space in which to read. Now, as the online environment has led to the disappearance of the frontier between private and public spaces, we will see how personal data protection principles may operate to ensure this essential freedom. The data protection regulation currently in force at both European Union and Council of Europe levels will be examined.

This study will also give us the opportunity to explore how the right to read alone interacts with the right to receive information, as well as with freedom of expression and of thought. I will demonstrate that there is a close interdependence of these fundamental rights, and conclude that the protection of readers has an impact not only on the ability to exchange information in a society, but also on our intellectual freedom and creativity.


Right to read alone – Reading activity – Readers – E-books – E-libraries – Privacy – Personal data protection – Freedom of expression – Freedom of thought – Right to receive information – Directive 95/46/EC 

Oral presentation

The paper will be presentend at the 10th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics (IDP 2014) under the title A decade of transformations, to be held in Barcelona on 3-4 July 2014.The Conference is organised by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (Open University of Catalonia, UOC) Law and Political Sciences department under the auspices of the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3).


Author: Cédric Goblet

Title: The right to read alone. A dimension of privacy and a democratic challenge 

eBook Title: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Internet, Law & Politics, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Barcelona, 3 and 4 July 2014

Coordinators: Cerrillo-i-Martínez, A., Peguera, M., Peña-López, I. & Vilasau Solana, M.


Copyright: 2014

Publisher: Barcelona, UOC-Huygens



1. Protecting reader’s freedom: an increasing challenge for democracy in the 21st century

2. Reading data: an open window into our intellectual activity

3. From private spaces in which to read to the “liquid surveillance” of readers

3.1. The right to read alone, as a dimension of privacy

3.2. Reading in an age of e-books, tablets and e-libraries

4. Reading, intellectual freedom & creativity

4.1. Role of the reader in the communication process

4.2 Readers’ freedom and creativity

4.3.How readers’ surveillance by companies puts intellectual freedom and creativity in danger

5. Data protection mechanisms to ensure readers’ freedom



Privacy Preferences
When you visit our website, it may store information through your browser from specific services, usually in form of cookies. Here you can change your privacy preferences. Please note that blocking some types of cookies may impact your experience on our website and the services we offer.