Rethinking Privacy: Though Technology has Outpaced Policy, That's No Reason to Give Up

[Commentary] Privacy isn’t dead, it’s just going through an identity crisis. As policymakers struggle to define a meaningful role for themselves in one of the most contentious areas of American politics, the advancement of digital technologies only makes the issue loom larger.

Each convenient new feature developed by Apple, Google or Facebook fuels a public conversation about the border between cutting-edge and creepy. Privacy is almost universally valued by humanity, but technology is advancing so quickly that people haven’t even had time to settle on a useful definition for the word, let alone a solution that everyone can live with.

One reason policymakers are struggling so much with emerging privacy issues is that the issues themselves are simply unprecedented. “It’s a huge challenge, because it becomes what lawyers call ‘a normative issue,’” Schwartz said. For practical purposes, Schwartz said, it is not wise to act as though privacy is dead, because the stakes are high. Vigilance is needed, he said, because the victim of ineffective privacy legislation is the public.

For the most part, policymakers don’t understand modern technology very well, Schwartz contends, and they’re not anticipating technological disruptions in society. There should be groups dedicated to imagining all the various scenarios that could arrive, he said, as is done in the intelligence community, because there will be disruptions and privacy is worth safeguarding.


Rethinking Privacy: Though Technology has Outpaced Policy, That's No Reason to Give Up