Privacy-Privacy Tradeoffs

David Pozen, Columbia Law School


Legal and policy debates about privacy revolve around conflicts between privacy and other goods. But privacy also conflicts with itself. Whenever securing privacy on one margin compromises privacy on another margin, a "privacy-privacy tradeoff" arises.

This Essay introduces the phenomenon of privacy-privacy tradeoffs, with particular attention to their role in National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance. After explaining why these tradeoffs are pervasive in modern society and developing a typology, the Essay shows that many of the arguments made by the NSA's defenders appeal not only to a national security need but also to a privacy-privacy tradeoff. An appreciation of these tradeoffs, the Essay contends, illuminates the structure and the stakes of debates over surveillance law specifically and privacy policy generally.