I’m currently working on fleshing out some ideas on privacy and the re-situation of privacy as a result of the use of digital media in everyday life. This was the catalyst for my involvement in the Privacy: Gathering Insights from Lawyers and Technologists event, which I co-organised (with great success I should add) with my colleague Maria Murphy from Maynooth University.
The Privacy Parenthesis is something different to the discussions you’ll find at the Privalaw site. In this work, I want to draw parallels between the post-phenomenology I began theorising in Locative Social Media: Place in the Digital Age and broader notions of citizenship in late capitalism and the digital world. The intention here is not just to broaden theory, but to concretise the influence of media that has calculative reason as its dominant logic in a specific aspect of being-in-the-world. That aspect is privacy; quite literally being at home, but not being-at-home (excuse the Heidegger pun, irresistible). I want to assess how the proliferation of digital media in private spaces and lives have re-spatialised privacy. My overarching hypothesis – if I have one – is that privacy has been de-spatialised and that privacy has become a set of embodied practices or performances that are aligned with particular computational and technological epistemologies.
My thinking here follows the now accepted fact that the “Snowdon Revelations” revealed the extent of surveillance of everyday citizens in everyday life. These revelations have been a focal event for discussion on the mediation of privacy itself in the digital age. As technological development moves towards the everyday integration of things in the “Internet of Everything” in “smart cities”, I’m intending my work to focus upon the shifting sense of citizenhood in these spaces in light of the extraordinary levels of data collection continuing unabated in everyday life. When one considers the implicit desires in schemes such as “smart cities” to produce “smart citizens”, through education, everyday practices and continual connectivity sits uneasily with any notion of privacy in a “traditional” sense. The desire to realise these futures for the logics of efficiency and control is in a tense relationship with very concept of private space and private citizenhood. Drawing on philosophical arguments to historicise privacy as a situated phenomena, such as Arendt’s notions of different epochs of the private realm and their importance in citizenhood, I aim to argue that the comparison between the privacy desired by critics of the current situation and the privacy afforded to persons in the digital world constitute a dialectic that reveals an emerging – but currently undefined – epoch of private space and the private realm. The computational logic of digital media, with industrial level big data collection fuelling algorithmic governance of spaces and citizens, is fundamentally incompatible with the private realm as detached from the public sphere.
However, claims to the “death of privacy” simplify the unfolding processes of remediation that are underway. The logic of computation, as a particular manifestation of the current moment of late capitalism, does not eliminate privacy but instead repositions and respatialises privacy as an affordance of living in a digitally-infused world. The points of contestation and resistance are scaled at the individual rather than societal level and constitute a negotiation with the expectations of being-digital in the world. The digital citizen is therefore always moving between the private in public as a function of engagement with digital media, and this indicates a coming or already-present epoch where privacy is not defined by property but by knowledge, awareness and caution of digital media. The “digital” or “smart” citizen is a therefore a contested entity, desired ideologically from two sides of a dialectical relationship but continually shifting through engagement and non-engagement in the digital apparatus of the world.
I began this work with a brief presentation of my ideas at the recent Surveillance and Citizenship conference in Cardiff University (June 18-19), part of the Digital Citizenship and Surveillance Society project.