Fri, Oct 4 at 7 p.m. | 90 minutes
So why does privacy matter? One reason is that it gives us control over our own “self-narrative” – control over how we are perceived by others. Being able to decide, to some degree at least, what information people do and do not have about you is crucial to navigating modern society. Psychology teaches us that first impressions are formed quite quickly, are usually based on only few pieces of information, and are very hard to dislodge. Unfortunately, our opinions of others usually have little regard for the depths of their lives and the capacity of all individuals to grow and change. While we all, as Walt Whitman put it, “contain multitudes,” to live in modern society is to make snap judgments and place other individuals into neat little packages. The full spectrum of human emotion and experience is too often reduced to a small group of facts. Being able to exercise some control over those facts is regarded by almost every society as a fundamental right.
The protection of personal privacy is one of the foremost concerns facing our civilization in the digital age. Those of us who are old enough to remember life before smartphones are keenly aware that Americans today enjoy significantly less privacy than our parents and grandparents did, and this trend seems to only be accelerating.
Cambridge Analytica. Equifax. FaceApp. Every week seems to bring news of privacy’s further erosion and we are starting to get numb.
So what do we do? Is privacy dead? What does that word even mean?
This Olio, taught by a leading privacy scholar and author, will foster a more advanced understanding of privacy — a complex and multifaceted concept — by offering some perspective on what privacy means, how to talk about it, where we have already been on this issue, where we stand now, and, perhaps, where we are headed. Front-and-center will be an examination of the rather slippery statement: “if you’re not doing anything wrong then you should have nothing to hide.”
Lawrence Cappello is a Professor of Constitutional History at the University of Alabama and the author of None of Your Damn Business: Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. His essays have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, and The Nation. He was recently profiled by The Economist.