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Philosophical Study of The Government, Big Data and Privacy

I read the 'Coalition Urge White House to Listen to Public on "Big Data and Privacy"' article from the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Web site (www.epic.org) and decided to make my latest blog post about this issue from a philosophical perspective. The article discussed the petition by EPIC and 24 other consumer privacy, public interest, scientific, and educational organizations to the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy to accept public comments on the Big Data and The Future of Privacy study now underway. The Office of Science and Technology Policy's primary function is to advise the President on scientific and technological issues. Furthermore, the President announced the Big Data review during a recent speech on NSA reform. The article later explained that the petition calls on the Office of Science and Technology Policy to incorporate the concerns and opinions of the public and lays out a number of important questions to consider, including whether current laws are adequate and also whether it is possible to maximize the benefits of big data while minimizing the risks to privacy.

This privacy issue is very common and has dominated the news pages this past year. The government is in search of private data about people through big companies while violating people's privacy rights. According to Spinello, the control theory and restricted access theory stands out when we review privacy. Jim Moore and Herman Tavani coined information privacy in terms of 'restricted access/ limited control,' which Spinello finally settled upon on being the most appropriate definition. Concluding that privacy is a condition or state of limited accessibility. If the government gains control, through these companies, of people's private information, they are in violation of their privacy.

There are several theories that justify the right to privacy, even from the government:

Normative Justifications: According to normative justification right to privacy is an instrumental good, which supports other basic human goods such as friendship, security, and freedom. Furthermore, Natural Law illustrates that right to privacy is an important instrumental good. A question that challenges this ethical/moral justification is that if right to privacy is a basic human good, can the government control it for the better well-being of a society such as a country's medium of exchange? I think the most important ethical theory that justifies the right to privacy from the government is Freedom.

Freedom: There is a risk of extrinsic loss of freedom because lack of privacy makes individuals more likely to be controlled by others, including the government. If sensitive information of an individual is retrieved, it may be used as a weapon against that individual by the government. As Carol Gould observed, 'Privacy is a protection against unwanted imposition or coercion by others and thus a protection of one's freedom of action.' In a democratic society, people should be able to freely express ideas, including their personalities, and if this information can be easily used as weapon against them by the government, then the society is close to losing its freedom of expression. In addition, there is also a risk of intrinsic loss of freedom. Most people behave differently when they are being monitored by others. As Richard Wassestrom mentioned, without privacy, life is 'less spontaneous and more measured.'

In addition, a major problem that may arise in electronic profiling by the government is that people can be judged out of context. Spinello gave an example of, Mary, who buys French wine online. If this information is viewed online, people may assume she has a drinking problem but this maybe false, she may only drink on special occasions. There have been several cases on social media sites about a person being arrested for posting threats to the United States security, and finding out it was false or a deliberate said joke to deceive people. The government can easily profile people and may wrongly do so.