The Philosophy of Privacy and Digital Life

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The emergence of digital life has created conceptual and ethical problems of a sort I believe academic philosophers are well suited to address. One of the most widely acknowledged and debated sets of questions and concerns generated by digital life relates to privacy or, more broadly, to data protection. These persistent and internationally acknowledged issues explain the new subfield within academic philosophy that is now emergent both in Europe and North America, which I will dub the “Philosophy of Privacy.” Our subfield—most of my books fall within it— has produced sole-authored books by several philosophers, several anthologies, and many papers on specific topics. But something is missing. Comprehensive philosophies of privacy and data protection are missing and scarcely attempted. Privacy theorists abound who are narrowly focused on ways to conceptualize privacy or data protection that they believe will facilitate better business practices or legal regulations. The philosophy of privacy is a project of greater magnitude, more comprehensive, and cumulative. The most comprehensive philosophy of privacy and data protection, which I will call “the philosophy of privacy” for short, would include a descriptive and prescriptive theory of privacy’s associated meanings, values, politics, and purposes, including an account of how we might live digitally driven and digitally reliant lives well, in a world that may or may not confer all of the opportunities for privacy, private choice, and data security ideal theories would commend. The most comprehensive philosophy of privacy would engage the insights of computer and information sciences, and other academic disciplines, such as psychology, sociology, economics, and law, where theories of privacy have been advanced since the 1970s. I describe the parameters of a comprehensive philosophy of privacy.


privacy, philosophy of privacy, digital life, ethics of privacy, EU Data Protection, Aadhaar Card, biometric privacy

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Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society

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