Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

6 Puzzles, Paradoxes, and Privacy in Public

IN CHAPTERS 4 AND 5 I DESCRIBED, IN BROAD BRUSHSTROKES, A FEW of the exemplary theoretical works representing two general approaches to defining a morally and politically defensible right to privacy. In this chapter I evaluate their general contributions and shortcomings. It is important, however, to qualify the nature of this evaluation: it is offered not as a detailed assessment of all aspects of these theories and approaches, but is focused on the quality of guidance they offer in addressing the bewildering array of socio-technical systems and practices that individually and in sum portend a radical erosion of privacy. The focus, therefore, is on their practical merits and the structure of reasons they incorporate for distinguishing the morally and politically acceptable from the unacceptable systems and practices that unrelentingly enter our lives and alter, shape, and mediate social experiences. The conclusion I reach is that they fall short on various fronts.

The shortcomings of these approaches are manifested in various ways but most importantly in not being able to provide sufficiently finely tuned responses to many of the challenges to privacy posed by these systems and practices. New practices, in some cases, are met with great anxiety and resistance yet do not register as privacy violations; in other cases they may, according to theory, register as privacy violations but, by other measures or in practice, may seem unproblematic. Certain theories respond in heavy-handed ways, with insufficient sensitivity to significant details, not because their principles and theses are wrong but because they are “blind” to relevant elements and

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