The Data Fishbowl: An Ethical and Philosophical Analysis of Information Privacy in an Integrated Digital World

Title: The Data Fishbowl: An Ethical and Philosophical Analysis of Information Privacy in an Integrated Digital World
Authors: Ekholm, John W.
Date: 2013
Abstract: Advancements in technology and the advent of the global digital information infrastructure, while offering great benefits, have concurrently eroded privacy and have left us vulnerable to a broad range of ills. “Privacy invasion creep” has progressed to the extent that it raises questions about the future of privacy, its continued viability, and even its relevance. It also raises questions about the value, and perhaps futility, of our attempting to preserve it. This thesis examines privacy, particularly information privacy, in today’s high-tech environment from various philosophical and ethical perspectives, with the aim of shedding light on these issues and, ultimately, to help guide future institutional discussions and decisions on privacy-related matters. To this end, I set out to prove that 1) privacy remains highly relevant on both individual and societal levels, and 2) its restoration and preservation constitutes an ethical imperative. I begin by highlighting the more significant developments that have impacted privacy, to provide context. I then argue in support of privacy’s continued relevance from three perspectives—psychological, sociological and fundamental rights. I also identify risks inherent in its encroachment and point to societal responses that these risks and impacts have prompted in various jurisdictions. Finally, I offer four ethical perspectives—based on the philosophical doctrine of John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, John Rawls and Alan Gewirth—on the moral requirement to restore and preserve privacy. Upholding the first assertion, the evidence presented indicates that privacy is indispensable for emotional well-being and for the social fabric of society, and that it deserves consideration as a human right. It also demonstrates the importance that is widely attributed to privacy, as well as its viability, partly through the many initiatives undertaken to support it. The arguments that are subsequently presented based on each of the four ethical perspectives bear out the second assertion, that the preservation and restoration of privacy constitutes an ethical imperative. I conclude with the finding that the erosion of privacy to date and the current trends give cause for serious concern, sober reflection, and collective action.
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