I recently received my copy of Social Dimensions of Privacy, edited by Beate Roessler & Dorota Mokrosinska. The book was published by Cambridge University Press this summer.
I’m delighted as I look over this book. The book has a wonderful selection of short philosophical essays on privacy, and I’m honored to be included among the terrific group of chapter authors, who include Anita Allen, Paul Schwartz, Helen Nissenbaum, Judith Wagner DeCew, Kirsty Hughes, Colin Bennett, Adam Moore, and Priscilla Regan, among many others. Each chapter is succinct and well-chosen.
From the book blurb: “Written by a select international group of leading privacy scholars, Social Dimensions of Privacy endorses and develops an innovative approach to privacy. By debating topical privacy cases in their specific research areas, the contributors explore the new privacy-sensitive areas: legal scholars and political theorists discuss the European and American approaches to privacy regulation; sociologists explore new forms of surveillance and privacy on social network sites; and philosophers revisit feminist critiques of privacy, discuss markets in personal data, issues of privacy in health care and democratic politics. The broad interdisciplinary character of the volume will be of interest to readers from a variety of scientific disciplines who are concerned with privacy and data protection issues.”
My chapter is entitled “The Meaning and Value of Privacy.”
What is privacy? This is a central question to answer, because a conception of privacy underpins every attempt to address it and protect it. Every court that holds that something is or isn’t privacy is basing its decision on a conception of privacy — often unstated. Privacy laws are also based on a conception of privacy, which informs what things the laws protect. Decisions involving privacy by design also involve a conception of privacy. When privacy is “baked into” products and services, there must be some understanding of what is being baked in.
Far too often, conceptions of privacy are too narrow, focusing on keeping secrets or avoiding disclosure of personal data. Privacy is much more than these things. Overly narrow conceptions of privacy lead to courts concluding that there is no privacy violation when something doesn’t fit the narrow conception. Narrow or incomplete conceptions of privacy lead to laws that fail to address key problems. Privacy by design can involve throwing in a few things and calling it “privacy,” but this is like cooking a dish that requires 20 ingredients but only including 5 of them.
It is thus imperative to think through what privacy is. If you have an overly narrow or incomplete conception of privacy, you’re not going to be able to effectively identify privacy risks or protect privacy.
In my work, I have attempted to develop a practical and useable conception of privacy. In what follows, I will briefly describe what I have developed.