Unknowableness and Informational Privacy

Journal of Philosophical Research 32:251-267 (2007)
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Despite their differences, the three most prominent accounts of informational privacy on the contemporary scene—the Control Theory, the Limited Access Theory, and the Narrow Ignorance Theory—all hold that an individual’s informational privacy is at least partly a function of a kind of inability of others to know personal facts about her. This common commitment, I argue, renders the accounts vulnerable to compelling counterexamples. I articulate a new account of informational privacy—the Broad Ignorance Theory—that avoids the commitment by rendering an individual’s informational privacy exclusively a function of others’ ignorance ofpersonal facts about her. I then go on to answer four objections to the Broad Ignorance Theory: that it paradoxically renders private what is in the public domain, that it fails to explain the oddity of attributions of informational privacy to individuals unable to control whether others know various personal facts about them, that it conflates informational privacy and secrecy, and that it conflicts with intuitions about informational privacy losses stemming from false or unjustified beliefs. In the final section of the paper I consider the plausibility of expanding the Broad Ignorance Theory into an account of privacy in general.



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David Matheson
Carleton University

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