Volume 31, Number 1 May 2012
Monday November 20th 2017

2012 Information Ethics Roundtable: Privacy and the Challenge of Technology

The tenth annual Information Ethics Roundtable was held at Hunter on April 27 -28. The Roundtable’s sponsors were the CUNY Office of Library Services, the Hunter College Library, the Hunter College Provost’s Office, and LACUNY. The Roundtable brings together librarians, information scientists, philosophers, and social scientists to examine the ethical questions that arise in the context of privacy, secrecy, censorship, and intellectual property.

This year’s Roundtable looked at how the digital revolution has affected privacy. Once we could go about our daily business and leave barely a trace. Now, however, many of our routines, from using a credit card to surfing the internet to swiping an ID at work, produce an enduring digital record. This information can then be gathered and analyzed to reveal detailed personal profiles. Such a development has profound implications for privacy, suggesting that the days of privacy in public or through obscurity are largely gone.

This year’s event featured thirteen speakers from six academic fields. Helen Nissenbaum of NYU’s Media, Culture, and Communication Department, the keynote speaker, discussed her notion of contextual integrity, which attempts to help determine when flows of personal information are morally acceptable. Information transmissions involve a subject (who the information is about), a sender (sometimes also the subject), and a receiver. Whether a flow of information raises moral issues depends not only on who it is about but also on who is passing it along. It depends too on who gets it, on the nature of the information itself, and, often, on whether or not the subject consented to its transmission. For instance, is my accountant sharing information about my income with the IRS with my consent, or is she posting pictures on Facebook of me wearing a New Year’s Eve lampshade without asking me? The latter act violates contextual integrity; the former doesn’t. Professor Nissenbaum presents and defends her theory in Privacy in Context (Stanford Law Books, 2009).

The other invited speaker was James S. Taylor of the philosophy department at the College of New Jersey. Professor Taylor is a gifted orator who spoke about privacy of the dead without the benefit of notes or Powerpoint. His case in point was Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-89), who took considerable pains to hide the fact that she had traits of both sexes. He argued that Christina can neither be wronged nor harmed by violations of her privacy today. He concluded from this that the rest of us have no obligation to respect her privacy or of the dead generally.

Other topics included library privacy in the 2.0 era, shielding the privacy of Freedom of Information Act requestors, protecting the online privacy of minors, and the implications that Wikileaks has for government accountability. For a fine account of the first day of the Roundtable see Beth Evans’ entry on the Brooklyn College Library blog (http://bclibsconf.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/information-ethics-roundtable-2012-hunter-college). For more information about the Roundtable see (http://ier2012.wordpress.com/5-2). Next year’s Roundtable will be hosted by the Information School at the University of Washington.

Tony Doyle (Hunter)

Leave a Comment

More from category

Library Technology and the Future of Libraries
Library Technology and the Future of Libraries

Physical space and hyperspace were the focus of the 2012 LACUNY Institute. Two speakers and a panel discussion [Read More]

21st Century Scholarship@Hunter

This year Hunter began its 21st Century Scholarship @ Hunter College Libraries series, presentations and workshops [Read More]

Pulp Librarian

I am a librarian and am also a writer of short stories. I am attempting to write my first crime novel. Some of my [Read More]

New Hunter Social Work and Public Health Library

The Hunter College Schools of Social Work and Public Health Library is a graduate and doctoral-level branch of the [Read More]