Privacy and its Violation
Niko Kolodny (University of California, Berkeley)

June 5, 2024, 3:00pm - 5:00pm
Department of Philosophy, UCL

Room 225
14 Upper Woburn Place
London WC1H 0NN
United Kingdom

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Professor Niko Kolodny (Berkeley) delivers the 2024 Shearman Lectures, on June 05, 06, and 07, at UCL.

Please register for each lecture individually, via the EventBrite link.

All lectures will run from 3.00-5.00pm in UCL's Central House Building, on Upper Woburn Place.

Pardon the hypotheticals, but suppose that I peep on you performing some bodily function or in a state of undress.  Suppose I hack into your email account, read everything you really think of your colleagues, and share it with them.  Suppose I inform the other guests at a party that you once faultlessly killed a child in an automobile accident.  Suppose I read your diary, or eavesdrop on your sharing its secrets with your friend.  Suppose I follow you wherever you go in public, staring intently, and taking notes on everything you do.  If I do these things, at least without your consent, then it is natural to think that I wrong you, by violating a duty of privacy that I owe to you—or, for short, by violating your privacy.

Pardon me telling you things you already know, but technological changes mean there is vastly greater capacity for gathering information about you.  We carry monitoring devices—our smartphones—with us at almost all times, and we install further monitoring devices—smart thermostats, personal assistants—in our homes.  These changes also mean that there is vastly greater capacity for storing the information that is gathered. Much of this information about you is also more available, in the sense that it is easier to get access to the data once you know where it is.  You do not need to travel to the archive or respect their visiting hours, for example, if the archive has been digitized and made available online.  Information about you is also more searchable, in the sense that it is easier to find where the information is in the first place.  It is also easier to broadcast the information to others; disclosure by tweet is, at least if you have the right followers, much more effective than disclosure by leaflet.  Furthermore, the accumulation of massive data sets, even sets which don’t include your data, make possible new inferences or predictions about you: in short, the acquisition of yet more information about you.  In sum, others have vastly amplified powers to acquire and share information about you, and so they have vastly amplified powers to violate your privacy.

This series of lectures asks three questions.  What is the content of the duty—or rather duties—of privacy?  What justifies the duties of privacy?  Which digital practices, if any, violate the duties of privacy?

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June 5, 2024, 3:00pm BST

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