By MARK PEARSON Follow @Journlaw
It is only in the past twenty or so years that the societal value of privacy has become of interest and still more recently that there has been a particular focus on the value of privacy for democracies, University of Amsterdam Professor of Ethics Beate Roessler proposed to the 2015 IP and Media Law Conference at the University of Melbourne Law School today (November 24).
“Privacy protection is necessary not only for individual freedom and autonomy but also for the functioning of the democratic society,” she said.
Professor Roessler pointed to statements by Edward Snowden in 2013 and 2015 as an interesting focus upon the democratic value of privacy, where he had justified his revelations partly upon the contest between the state’s surveillance and the individual citizen’s privacy.
She listed three steps in the conceptualisation of privacy – firstly, the classic conception of Warren and Brandeis as the right to be let alone, the fundamental idea being that the right to freedom is protected by, and dependent upon, the right to privacy.
“If I started telling you now about my grandmother I would violate the demand of the role I am playing here. It is not just my autonomy, but it is also the norm itself that regulates our relations.“Privacy is also a social practice, meaning the norms protect individual privacy and the right is part of the practice.“Also respect for the privacy of other people is part of the practice. It is part of the deal of the social norms of privacy. The right to privacy and respect is always socially contextualised.
“The idea that we are democratic subjects is also the idea that our privacy is protected.”
She explained that the value of privacy has for the most part of the last hundred years been conceived of in purely individual terms: the protection of privacy being important or even constitutive for the protection of individual freedom and autonomy.
The third step after Warren and Brandeis was the significance of privacy for democracy.
“I want to argue that it is precisely this social and democratic value of privacy which is at stake in the digitized society,” she proposed.
“New technologies do have an impact on our relationships, for better or for worse.“The right idea is to think about what does privacy do in our society, and if that changes how far can we go with that change?”
“The threat of a life without the protection of privacy involves the transformation of social and political relations,” she concluded.“If we have to assume there is no privacy protection any longer in our social relations it means our social relations tend to get homogenized.“How can I understand myself as a democratic subject if I can’t assume any longer that my privacy is not being protected?“How do we change and how does society change, when our sense of privacy changes, when we lose the differences in self-presentation, possibilities of political participation, and when we lose the possibilities of control?”
The full conference program is here. Our paper (Pearson, Bennett and Morton) was titled ‘Mental health and the media: a case study in open justice’ (see earlier blog here) and was presented yesterday (November 23).
Those interested in privacy as a topic might also see my timeline of privacy in Australia here.
Disclaimer: While I write about media law and ethics, nothing here should be construed as legal advice. I am an academic, not a lawyer. My only advice is that you consult a lawyer before taking any legal risks.
© Mark Pearson 2015