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Privacy in Panopticon 2.0: applying Kant's formula of humanity to Internet privacy
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 01:25 authored by Sacha Molitorisz
Jeremy Bentham gave us the Panopticon; Michel Foucault observed how people have internalised its surveillance; and now, thanks to the internet, we inhabit Panopticon 2.0, in which every user knows everything about everyone - at least potentially. In practice, of course, there are limits that protect privacy, ranging from encryption to obfuscation to notice-and-consent provisions. Complex and amorphous, the internet is a site of intense ethical contestation, where an original commitment to the ideals of openness, collaboration and knowledge has been supplemented by a corporate profit maxim and a governmental surveillance motive.There has, however, been one constant: the net has tended to privilege openness over privacy. On the internet, ensuing challenges to privacy are further exacerbated by the ongoing dispute about what privacy is and why it matters. In response to this dispute, I argue first that privacy can be defined by reference to the notion of access, and second that privacy matters both instrumentally and non-instrumentally,for reasons of dignity, autonomy and relationships. I then sketch an outline of relational privacy, which argues that we are all beings-in-relation, and that privacy is about connection as much as isolation. Further, I argue that Kant's formula of humanity, which exhorts us to treat others never merely as means, but always as ends in themselves, is a fitting prescription through which both to understand privacy, and to protect it. Drawing on the formula, I propose a two-tier model of consent that comprises: individual consent, which is admittedly problematic online;and collective consent, involving just laws to reinstate, reinforce, limit, override and otherwise affect individual consent. Based on my descriptive and prescriptive analysis, I then advocate practical solutions, both legal and extra-legal, including laws that mirror general protections found in consumer law and guidelines to encourage privacy-protecting behaviour among net users. With such steps, the internet might be less Panopticon 2.0 and more principle-based cosmoikopolis -- abstract.