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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Privacy and the Threat to the Self

The New York Times - Opinionator
Originally published June 22, 2013

In the wake of continuing revelations of government spying programs and the recent Supreme Court ruling on DNA collection – both of which push the generally accepted boundaries against state intrusion on the person — the issue of privacy is foremost on the public mind. The frequent mantra, heard from both media commentators and government officials, is that we face a “trade-off” between safety and convenience on one hand and privacy on the other. We just need, we are told, to find the right balance.

This way of framing the issue makes sense if you understand privacy solely as a political or legal concept. And its political importance is certainly part of what makes privacy so important: what is private is what is yours alone to control, without interference from others or the state. But the concept of privacy also matters for another, deeper reason. It is intimately connected to what it is to be an autonomous person.

What makes your thoughts your thoughts? One answer is that you have what philosophers sometimes call “privileged access” to them. This means at least two things. First, you access them in a way I can’t. Even if I could walk a mile in your shoes, I can’t know what you feel in the same way you can: you see it from the inside so to speak. Second, you can, at least sometimes, control what I know about your thoughts. You can hide your true feelings from me, or let me have the key to your heart.

The entire story is here.
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