Privacy as an aggregate public good
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionTechnology in society. 2020, 63. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.techsoc.2020.101422
Privacy relates to individuals and their ability to keep certain aspects of themselves away from other individuals and organisations. This leads both proponents and opponents of liberalism to argue that liberalism involves allowing individuals to determine for themselves the level of privacy they desire. If they are given adequate information and the ability to choose, the results are argued to be legitimate, even if individuals choose to bargain away all or most of their privacy in return for convenience, economic benefits, etc. However, the individualistic approach to privacy is insufficient, due to a set of externalities and information leakages involved in privacy issues. A crucial aspect of privacy is that it is an aggregate public good, and recognising this lets us see why government intervention is both beneficial and necessary for securing the provision of optimal levels of privacy. This conception of privacy enables us to treat it as a good that is underprovided due to market failure. The article shows how liberals can justify government interference for the protection of privacy by relying on the avoidance of harm, and not on paternalism or other arguments not easily reconcilable with liberalism.