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

By Helen Nissenbaum | Go to book overview

Conclusion

WE HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY, BUT IT IS NEITHER A RIGHT TO control personal information nor a right to have access to this information restricted. Instead, it is a right to live in a world in which our expectations about the flow of personal information are, for the most part, met; expectations that are shaped not only by force of habit and convention but a general confidence in the mutual support these flows accord to key organizing principles of social life, including moral and political ones. This is the right I have called contextual integrity, achieved through the harmonious balance of social rules, or norms, with both local and general values, ends, and purposes.

This is never a static harmony, however, because over time, conditions change and contexts and norms evolve along with them. But momentous changes— war, revolution, famine—may cause asynchronicities between present practices newly jarred by such discontinuities and expectations that have been evolving incrementally and not kept apace. We are living through one such discontinuity, neither as cataclysmic nor as stark as war and famine, but disruptive nevertheless. The rapid adoption and infiltration of digital information technologies and technology-based systems and practices into virtually all aspects of life, to my mind, have resulted in a schism, many schisms, between experience and expectation. Where a schism has resulted from radical change in the flows of personal information, it is experienced and protested as a violation of privacy.

Accepting privacy as a moral and political right, the framework of contextual integrity is a model of the structure of people's expectations in relation to

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