Professor Helen Nissenbaum has made a career out of putting philosophy to work. In a CV replete with honors (and also filled with impressive grants), she has turned a doctorate in Philosophy from Stanford University into a career researching the privacy implications of the internet. She is currently professor of “Media, Culture, and Communication & Computer Science” at NYU. I heard her speak at the Fordham University Law School, where her talk focused on her latest book, Privacy in Context; Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life.
Nissenbaum said that she thought this would be the easiest book she’s ever written, because it was simply synthesizing many papers, but that in fact it was the hardest, and it took two years. In the book (and in her current work) she is building an analytical framework that would identify the aspect of an online transaction or interaction that causes social anxiety.
The miracle of the internet is about the rapid dissemination of information. This has delivered powerful economic benefits, and it has delivered freedom.
The internet has also enabled massive data repositories that have caused concern. Nissenbaum mentioned Choicepoint and you can see the concerns of the Electronic Privacy Information Center here. Nissenbaum also mentioned the Total Information Awareness (TIA) program of the federal government. Of TIA, EPIC wrote, “TSA has failed to meet its legal obligations for openness and transparency under the Freedom of Information Act and has violated the spirit of the Privacy Act for the protection of privacy rights.”