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Digital Literacy and AI

Defining Privacy

Defining Privacy

Privacy is considered, by some, the most contested right in the United States due to its multiplicity and opaque nature. The definition and concept of privacy has changed overtime, encompassing a variety of meanings.

Privacy within the United States can be divided up into three core concepts, according to American legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky:

  • freedom from government intrusion,
  • autonomy of freedom to make decisions, and
  • the ability to shield the dissemination of personal information. 

Source: Chemerinsky, E. (2006).Rediscovering Brandeis’s Right to Privacy. Harvard Law Review, 45(4), 643-657.

Why Privacy is Important in the Debate on Surveillance

The discussions surrounding surveillance and individual rights can be difficult to understand and manage, due to the variety of definitions and inexact conceptualization of privacy. In his book, Privacy, Surveillance, and Public Trust, Daniel Neyland notes privacy as who should have what, whereas surveillance is who does what. This specific distinction, and the fragile balance of control between the two, are central to the debate on surveillance in societies. 

Most democracies agree that privacy is a necessity as it allows citizens to create and share different ideas (Edwards, 2016, pp. 109). This marketplace of ideas and free speech is jeopardized without the practice and right to privacy. And, as privacy becomes more intertwined within the digital sphere, it also becomes more public. Therefore, the relationship between private and public becomes less transparent. This blend of personal and private threatens not only an individual's autonomy, but it can also mean less protection from surveillance and surveillance capitalists. 


Source: Edwards, S. (2016). The Right to Privacy Is Dying: Technology Is Killing It and We Are Letting It Happen. In Cropf, R. A., & Bagwell, T. C. (Ed. 1), Ethical Issues and Citizen Rights in the Era of Digital Government Surveillance (Advances in Public Policy and Administration) (pp.103-126). IGI Global.