Communication Ethics book part for Traditional Privacy Broken Down. (This is an automatically generated summary to avoid having huge posts on this page. Click through to read this post.)
in Communication Ethics
I see "traditional" privacy as having two aspects:
- Freedom From Surveillance: You have "privacy" in your residence because you can close the windows and the shades and expect that nobody can see you, thus freeing you to perform many acts both socially unacceptable and illegal if viewable in public. One example of this is nudity; illegal if done in a public park, yet a part of everyone's life. Less extreme but the same basic principle, in most places one can still walk down the street without a camera recording their movement. You also have privacy based on the guarantees in the Fourth Amendment that the government won't search or seize your person, house, papers, or effects without a good reason.
I define "surveillance" as "collecting information about people". I deliberately leave out any considerations of "intent". When you accidentally look into your neighbor's window and happen to see them, for the purposes of this essay, that's "surveillance", even though I'd never use the term that way normally. I'd like a more neutral term but I can't think of one that doesn't introduce its own distortions.
The reason I believe intent shouldn't enter into it at the most fundamental level is that the intent of the collector has no effect on the data collected. Nor does the intent of the collector constrain what will be done with the data in the future; police investigations routinely use data that was collected for accounting purposes, such as phone records. Such intent is useful in the context of a specific problem, but it is not worth clouding the issue by trying to make it part of the fundamental part of privacy. "Intent" is a secondary consideration at best. What fundamentally matters is that surveillance has occurred, and information has been collected.
This corresponds pretty strongly with the dictionary definition, but in normal usage with regards to communications issues, there's clearly another aspect as well:
- Information Access: Who has access to what information? We expect that our neighbor can not obtain our criminal record just for the asking, unless this right has been explicitly stripped from someone, such as is the case for sex offenders in many places. We expect our shopping habits, savory and otherwise, are not publicly available. We consider our privacy violated whenever information about us is shared with people who should not have it.