By Jeroen van den Hoven, Martijn Blaauw, Wolter Pieters, and Martijn Warnier
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
Human beings value their privacy and the protection of their personal sphere of life. They value some control over who knows what about them. They certainly do not want their personal information to be accessible to just anyone at any time. But recent advances in information technology threaten privacy and have reduced the amount of control over personal data and open up the possibility of a range of negative consequences as a result of access to personal data. The 21st century has become the century of Big Data and advanced Information Technology allows for the storage and processing of exabytes of data. The revelations of Edward Snowden have demonstrated that these worries are real and that the technical capabilities to collect, store and search large quantities of data concerning telephone conversations, internet searches and electronic payment are now in place and are routinely used by government agencies. For business firms, personal data about customers and potential customers are now also a key asset. At the same time, the meaning and value of privacy remains the subject of considerable controversy. The combination of increasing power of new technology and the declining clarity and agreement on privacy give rise to problems concerning law, policy and ethics. The focus of this article is on exploring the relationship between information technology (IT) and privacy. We will both illustrate the specific threats that IT and innovations in IT pose for privacy, and indicate how IT itself might be able to overcome these privacy concerns by being developed in a ‘privacy-sensitive way’. We will also discuss the role of emerging technologies in the debate, and account for the way in which moral debates are themselves affected by IT.
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