Privacy and Pervasive Surveillance: A Philosophical Analysis

Privacy and Pervasive Surveillance: A Philosophical Analysis

Alan Rubel (University of Wisconsin – Madison, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4582-0.ch014
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Abstract

This chapter analyzes some tools of pervasive surveillance in light of the growing philosophical literature regarding the nature and value of privacy. It clarifies the conditions under which a person can be said to have privacy, explains a number of ways in which particular facets of privacy are morally weighty, and explains how such conceptual issues may be used to analyze surveillance scenarios. It argues that in many cases, surveillance may both increase and decrease aspects of privacy, and that the relevant question is whether those privacy losses (and gains) are morally salient. The ways in which privacy diminishment may be morally problematic must be based on the value of privacy, and the chapter explains several conceptions of such values. It concludes with a description of how some surveillance technologies may conflict with the value of privacy.
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Background

Pervasive surveillance, or “uberveillance”—a term developed by Michael and Michael to denote the intersection between automatic location identification, contextual information gathering, and implantable devices—is difficult to pin down precisely (Michael & Michael, 2007). Roughly, the notion is one of widespread and well-integrated information gathering that tracks persons or objects in many areas, and incorporates contextual information. The degree to which contextual information may eventually be incorporated into surveillance systems, the ability for people to create new uses for technologies, and individual willingness to be surveilled is difficult, if not impossible, to predict. This is not an attempt to offer an overarching vision for the direction and future of pervasive surveillance. Rather, in this background section I will draw on the work of others who have analyzed the technological landscape in greater detail and point out some possibilities for pervasive surveillance in different arenas, offering examples of pervasive surveillance technologies that will provide a foundation for the discussions of privacy and claims to privacy in the following sections.

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