Privacy and Autonomy: On Some Misconceptions Concerning the Political Dimensions of Privacy

Law and Philosophy 37 (2):117-143 (2018)

Dorota Mokrosinska
Leiden University
One of the most influential views in privacy scholarship is that privacy protects individual autonomy. On the early liberal view, the exercise of autonomy requires detachment from social and political life and privacy facilitates it. This view of privacy still informs current legal and political practice. As this view of privacy presupposes a tension between privacy and society, it is responsible for the underrating of privacy in legal and political practice. Over the last decades, liberal reflection on autonomy has shifted from the early liberal understanding of autonomy as calling for detachment from social life to the idea of autonomy as socially embedded. This development has brought about a corresponding adjustment in the liberal concept of privacy: privacy has come to be seen as a social rather than merely an individual interest. The social turn in thinking about privacy has gone a long way to change the problematic image of privacy in legal and political practice. It has not gone far enough, however, to draw conclusions regarding the political relevance of privacy. I argue that we should understand autonomy as politically embedded. Revised along these lines, privacy has a political value: when we claim privacy, we do not make a claim to withdraw from political life, but rather make a claim to protect certain forms of political engagement.
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DOI 10.1007/s10982-017-9307-3
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