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The Ethics of Data Privacy (thesis)

  Jeroen Seynhaeve     2022-12-15

The Ethics of Data Privacy (thesis)


Free download for students and scholars. Thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of MPhil (Applied Ethics) in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Stellenbosch University

Abstract 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. However, recent 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 notions of privacy struggle to keep up with technological advancements. This makes a recalibration of our relationship to technology, and in particular the role (data) privacy plays in this relationship, necessary and urgent. But before we can come up with new ways to manage privacy in relation to technology, we must first get clarity on what privacy is, and why it deserves protection. This is why this thesis starts with an overview of the current data privacy landscape and its different concepts and controversies, and with an argument for why this landscape is unprecedented. Chapters Two and Three juxtapose two different arguments for data privacy. The first claims that data privacy is justified in as far as it protects us against harm. I disagree with this claim, and argue that a harm-based approach to data privacy in a rapidly changing technological context is undermined by unreliable concepts and predictions of harm. The second argument, which I defend, claims that data privacy deserves protection because it constitutes a unique and necessary context for the protection of an underlying value: the fundamental principle of respect for persons. The method I propose for managing data privacy is derived from this second argument: rather than weighing up costs and benefits, we must deliberate moral values and practical concerns that are at stake when we evaluate data privacy dilemmas, and test the outcomes of our deliberations against the principle of respect for persons.

Read full introduction to the book


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