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Creative Innovation 2017 (Ci2017)

The Harm in Merely Knowing: Privacy, Complicity, Surveillance, and the Self

Monday, 16 April 2018

Robert H. Sloan
University of Illinois at Chicago

Richard Warner
Chicago-Kent College of Law

Abstract

Current critiques of governmental surveillance focus on the government’s use of information to discourage and prevent behavior of which it disapproves. We focus on what the government knows, not on how it uses what it knows. We argue that massive governmental knowing puts at risk people’s ability to realize those aspects of themselves with which they identify and which they think of as constituting their identity. This is a current, ongoing harm that most people now suffer. The argument in outline: Adequate self-realization requires adequate privacy in public. Adequate privacy in public requires that people voluntarily limit their knowledge of each other as they interact. That requires constant and complex coordination. Shared informational norms facilitate that coordination. Governmental surveillance can, and does, undermine the norm-based coordination on which privacy in public depends and thereby undermines prospects for self-realization.

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