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

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

5 Privacy in Private

ONE OF THE CHIEF REASONS FOR UNCOVERING THE SOURCES OF moral legitimacy for privacy claims is to guide our responses to encounters with socio-technical systems. According to the theories surveyed in Chapter 4, the right to control information and to limit access—the right to privacy—is grounded in the cluster of values that privacy underwrites. When we formulate resistance (or capitulate) to specific socio-technical systems, it is frequently with reference to these values. However, there is another influential approach that derives privacy's value from the role it plays in delineating a protected, private sphere for individuals. We can tease apart two strands in this approach, one a positive strand, the other, if you will, a negative one. The positive strand stresses the importance to individuals of a private sphere or zone in which one is able to avoid scrutiny, approbation, accountability, and so forth, drawing on a similar set of assumptions and arguments to those reviewed in Chapter 4. A right to (informational) privacy, by imposing limits on access to information, is one means of creating or asserting such a sphere. In other words, as before, we recognize privacy's instrumental value but specifically focus here on its role in circumscribing a private sphere.

The negative aspect of this thesis looks critically at a great deal of work on privacy, judging it to be overly inclusive. Legal scholar Tom Gerety concedes that privacy is important and worth protecting, but only once its conceptual sprawl has been radically trimmed. Focused predominantly on the legal concept of privacy, Gerety asserts, “A legal concept will do us little good if it

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