Book part:
Privacy as a Tactic of Norm Evasion, or Why the Question as to the Value of Privacy is Fruitless


Privacy aims at avoiding norms, whether they be legal, societal, religious or personal. Privacy should not be regarded as a value in itself, but as a tactic of questioning, limiting and curtailing the absoluteness of values and norms. If this concept of privacy is accepted, it becomes clear why the meaning and value of privacy differs from person to person, culture to culture and epoch to epoch. In truth, it is the norms that vary; the desire for privacy is only as wide or small as the values imposed. It can also help to shed light on on-going privacy discussions. The ‘nothing to hide’ argument may be taken as an example. If you have nothing to hide, so the argument goes, why be afraid of control and surveillance? The reaction has often been to either argue that everyone has something to hide, or to stress why it is important for people to have privacy. For example, it has been pointed out that people need individual privacy in order to flourish, to develop as an autonomous person or to allow for unfettered experimentation. This; however, is, in general, a rather weak argument. How, for example, has the mass surveillance activities by the NSA undermined the personal autonomy of an ordinary American or European citizen? Moreover, many feel that national security and the protection of life and limbs is simply more important than being able to experiment unfettered in private. The rhetorical question “Who needs privacy when you are dead?” is often asked. This essay will argue that there may be a stronger argument to make when the focus is turned around, namely not by looking at privacy as an independent value, which might outweigh or counter other interests, but as a doctrine which essence it is to limit and curtail the reach and weight of other values.

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Preferred Citation
van der Sloot, Bart: Privacy as a Tactic of Norm Evasion, or Why the Question as to the Value of Privacy is Fruitless. In: Janssens, Liisa: The Art of Ethics in the Information Society. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2016, S. 121-126. DOI: 10.25969/mediarep/13407.
@INCOLLECTION{van der Sloot2016,
 author = {van der Sloot, Bart},
 title = {Privacy as a Tactic of Norm Evasion, or Why the Question as to the Value of Privacy is Fruitless},
 year = 2016,
 doi = {10.25969/mediarep/13407},
 editor = {Janssens, Liisa},
 address = {Amsterdam},
 booktitle = {The Art of Ethics in the Information Society},
 pages = {121--126},
 publisher = {Amsterdam University Press},
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