Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Anxiety about surveillance and data mining has led many to embrace implausibly expansive and rigid conceptions of privacy. The premises of some current privacy arguments do not fit well with the broader political commitments of those who make them. In particular, liberals seem to have lost touch with the reservations about privacy expressed in the social criticism of some decades ago. They seem unable to imagine that preoccupation with privacy might amount to a “pursuit of loneliness” or how “eyes on the street” might have reassuring connotations. Without denying the importance of the effort to define and secure privacy values, I want to catalogue and push back against some key rhetorical tropes that distort current discussion and practice. One problem is that privacy defenses often imply a degree of pessimism about the state that is inconsistent with the strong general public regulatory and social-welfare role that many defenders favor. Another is a sentimental disposition toward past convention that obscures the potential contributions of new technologies to both order and justice. And a third is a narrow conception of personality that exalts extreme individual control over information at the expense of sharing and sociability.

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