The Ethics of Data Privacy

  Jeroen Seynhaeve     2022-09-10 Ethics of Data Privacy, Jeroen Seynhaeve

Technology, and in particular information and communication technology (ICT), often relies on sensitive data about people to deliver the results we want from them.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this: our social, scientific, political and economic institutions and progress rely on this data, and would be seriously hampered if all data about people were considered private.

  • Format Digital download (PDF)
  • Pages 130
  • Size A5
  • Copyright 2022 Jeroen A. Seynhaeve

However, recent data-driven technologies challenge our ethical notions of privacy in unprecedented ways. Rapid technological advancements have led to a whole new relationship between people and ICT, and between ICT and privacy. As it turns out, access to vast amounts of personal data unlocks unprecedented possibilities. This has led to a plethora of new technologies that process all kinds of data about people, up to a point where our established ethical notions of privacy struggle to keep up with technological advancements.

This calls for a new approach to data privacy, and a recalibration of our relationship to technology – in particular the role (data) privacy plays in this relationship. But before we can come up with new ways to manage privacy in relation to technology, we must first get clarity on what data privacy is, and why it deserves protection.

This is why this book starts with an overview of the current landscape of data privacy ethics, its different concepts and controversies, and an argument for why this landscape is unprecedented. Chapters Two and Three juxtapose two different moral arguments for data privacy, and conclude with a proposal for managing data privacy dilemmas.

The first argument – for a harm-based approach to data privacy – claims that data privacy is justified in as far as it protects us against harm. I disagree with this claim, and argue that this approach is undermined by unreliable concepts and predictions of harm – especially in a rapidly changing technological context.

The second argument, which I defend, proposes a value-based approach, claiming that data privacy deserves protection in as far as it constitutes a unique and necessary context for the protection of a fundamental liberal value: the principle of respect for each and every person. The method I propose for managing data privacy is derived from this second argument: rather than trying to predict and manage harms we hardly understand, we need to define clear ethical boundaries for the processing of personal data. How? By deliberating moral values we wish to uphold in relation to other interests and practical concerns. The real question is: how do we envision a good life in a world largely defined by technology – now, and in our technosocial future.

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Stellenbosch University PhilPapers

The content in this book was presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MPhil (Applied Ethics) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, December 2022.
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