What Do We Mean By Privacy?

Kevin Delvecchio

What most people mean when they refer to privacy is information privacy or data privacy, which is commonly described as your ability to have some control over the collection and use of your personal information.

While there are numerous scholars, professional organizations, law practices and international non-profit organizations dedicated to ongoing definition and advancement of privacy rights, we believe there is a troubling lack of representation of our personal and community interests in this field. Privacy, we believe, is how everyone protects the things we love.

Organized professions continue to advance privacy theory and profit from the practice of privacy, but this progress is usually invisible to the public. Instead, individuals and communities are frequently redirected into a swamp of myths and tropes about privacy. "Privacy is dead," "I have nothing to hide," and "there is no privacy when in public" are three such myths that are often found in privacy discussions. In some cases, these myths are reliably deployed to discourage individuals and communities from participating in the active development of privacy norms. In other cases, they are merely expressions born from a feeling of defeat or privacy fatalism.

The truth is, never before has personal privacy been so important, nor has there ever been such a coordinated and sophisticated assault on the information privacy of individuals and communities. Corporations and governments extract enormous value from quietly collecting and using personal information at large scale, through tactics such as data mining and mass surveillance.

Individuals and communities are deliberately rendered senseless of these efforts, and are often provided no window from which to see into the sophisticated machines that coldly consume our personal data, resulting in automated, and often harmful, outcomes.

How does this topic affect an individual or community's ability to exercise control over the collection or use of their personal information?

When San Diego Privacy participates in community and individual efforts, we're focused on the definition of privacy that connects to each individual's control of our personal information. Topics such as secrecy, security, encryption and surveillance frequently have intersections with privacy, and we approach those topics from the direction of information privacy. For each topic, we ask: "how does this topic affect an individual or community's ability to exercise control over the collection or use of their personal information?"

We also interrogate our unconscious biases. We ask: "how much do our answers to privacy questions rest on old assumptions and old systems, and have any of those assumptions or systems been proven harmful to individuals or entire communities?" 

While we remain aware and active on the topic of privacy law and policy, we also acknowledge privacy is deeply individual and contextual by nature. Every individual who wants to, should be able to participate in influencing privacy norms, regardless of their education or occupation.

The practice and development of individual privacy expands well beyond the law. Indeed, scholars, lawmakers, jurists and lawyers often depend on the norms of society, over which they elaborate their legal theories. Our group aims to strengthen those community norms, and actively seeks out respectful and thoughtful San Diegans from all perspectives and walks of life to participate in our efforts.

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