Shifting Thoughts on Privacy?

Submitted by Gary Natriello on Tue, 03/16/2010 - 11:03am.
Gary Natriello's picture

Declan McCullagh has a piece on Why no one cares about privacy anymore that explores what may be shifting attitudes on privacy in a world of networked applications that rely on the sharing of personal information. The piece is generating a good deal of commentary. It raises interesting questions for us both in our role as participants and in our role as creators of online environments that may require personal information to function.

And I cannot help but think about the introductory paragraphs from Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death where he points out that we may be reduced to passivity and egoism by those things that we love.



Faisal Anwar's picture
Faisal Anwar Says:
Tue, 03/16/2010 - 10:05pm

On a related note .... in today's NYTimes: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/17/technology/17privacy.html?hp


Jeff Frank's picture
Jeff Frank Says:
Tue, 03/16/2010 - 2:37pm

This is a very interesting post. Drawing the connection between a seeming growing lack of care about privacy and Huxley’s dystopian vision of an utterly vapid culture, I am reminded of another way of taking our shifting thoughts on privacy. On NPR’s Weekend Edition Vivek Kundra, the nation's first federal chief information officer, discussed the need for more transparency in government. To facilitate this, the government is going to move away from a culture of privacy and towards one of increased openness. While there is a general sense that this move will be for the best, might there be unintended consequences, analogous to those suggested by Postman, if this move is made?

In her 2002 Reith Lectures, philosopher Onora O’Neill discussed a growing disconnect between transparency and trust. In lecture four she makes the point:

If we want to restore trust we need to reduce deception and lies rather than secrecy. Some sorts of secrecy indeed support deception, others do not. Transparency and openness may not be the unconditional goods that they are fashionably supposed to be. By the same token, secrecy and lack of transparency may not be the enemies of trust.

I find this to be an interesting line of thinking, and O’Neill’s lectures are a good reminder to me that more access to information and more transparency does not necessarily led to conditions that allow for more truthful inquiry and more trusting relationships.


Gary Natriello's picture
Gary Natriello Says:
Tue, 03/16/2010 - 2:58pm

The relationship between trust and transparency is an interesting one. It was Ronald Reagan who coined the phrase "trust but verify" as a way to describe his approach to dealing with the Soviet Union. However, it is clear that genuine trust would not require verification or transparency. Reagan's phrase made it apparent that he placed no trust in this adversary. In some ways transparency means giving up on the notion of trust and, perhaps more importantly, on the idea of integrity. If individuals and institutions act with integrity, then full transparency should not be necessary. One should be able to count on an individual or an institution to act in all cases in ways that are consistent with those actions that are visible in public. In fact, we might argue that increasing transparency of either institutional or individual action is really a dodge for integrity. After all, if I (or the U.S. government) make my actions more transparent or public, then I (or the U.S. government) can escape the requirements of integrity and let everyone judge all actions for themselves.