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

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

4 Locating the Value in Privacy

THE LANDSCAPE OF THEORETICAL WORK ON PRIVACY IS VAST, spanning disciplines from philosophy to political science, political and legal theory, media and information studies, and, increasingly, computer science and engineering. This chapter contains a selective look at some of these contributions. Neither an intellectual history nor a thorough scan, I strive to avoid disciplinary prejudice, although as the discussion crosses disciplinary boundaries in an effort to showcase a range of offerings, its perspective (this author's) is necessarily rooted in the analytic tradition.

One point on which there seems to be near-unanimous agreement is that privacy is a messy and complex subject. To bring order to the wide-ranging accounts and theories that may serve to explain why certain of the practices described in Part I are not only disliked but are objectionable, I provide a filter, or organizational scheme, to highlight ideas that are key to the general purposes of the book. This loose scheme incorporates three dimensions of difference within the set of theories: the first distinguishes normative accounts from descriptive ones, the second distinguishes definitions given in terms of access from those given in terms of control, and the third distinguishes accounts that locate the source of privacy's prescriptive power in its capacity to promote other important values from accounts that locate its prescriptive power in the capacity to protect a specific, private realm from access by others. After situating various theories along these dimensions in chapters 4 and

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