This is just a really quick thought that I wanted to toss out.
I perceive a problem associated with the digitization of public records: such digitization allows business interests to gather aggregate data on large collections of people while retaining identifiable characteristics. This allows for a phenomenal sorting potential. At the same time, we might ask, “is there anything we can, or really want to, do about this?”
I hear this a lot – ‘Chris, you have to understand that things are different now. The paradigm is shifting towards transparency, and there’s nothing wrong with that, and you’re being a pain in the ass suggesting that there is anything wrong with transparency. Do you have something to hide, or something like that?’ This particular line bothers the hell out of me, because I shouldn’t have to expose myself without giving my consent, especially when I previously enjoyed a greater degree of privacy as a consequence of obscurity and/or the costs involved with copying, sorting, and analyzing analogue records. I fail to see why I have to give up past nascent rights and expectations just because we can mine data more effectively (hell, that would have been a meaningless statement around the time that I was born…). Efficiency is not the same as superior, better, or (necessarily) wanted.
This isn’t a ‘full’ post, in the sense that I’m not actually going to get into any issues. Instead I’m going to put up a list of texts that are particularly helpful in getting into debates surrounding privacy, as well as some texts that deal with privacy as it relates to the process of digitization. I want to do this for two reasons: First, because I am curious to see how I would change this list in a year or two’s time, and second because when I was getting into my Master’s project I couldn’t find anything like the list I’ve prepared.
For the usual purposes of full disclosure/covering my ass, I’ll note that this list should be read as something ‘ongoing’/’in development’. It’s not comprehensive of everything that I’ve ever read and only reflects what I’ve been exposed to up until this point.
Philosophical Dimensions of Privacy: An Anthology by Ferdinand D. Schoeman.
Somewhat amusingly, I finally got this book just a month or so after receiving my MA. Why is this the first book on the list? Because it would have saved me a metric buttload of time in going to primary sources to ‘catch up’ on the genealogy of privacy debates. Schoeman has done an exceptional job in collecting major issues and debates in privacy, drawing from prominent philosophical and legal theorists. The downside: it was published in 1984, so it misses the more contemporary discussions in the ongoing debates surrounding privacy. That said, its indispensable if you’re looking for a solid first academic discussion of privacy.
I use Facebook. I blog. I am a registered member of various online services, as well as several offline ones. Google, Facebook, several IT forums, credit card companies, my bank, and my employer (to name a few) can develop a fairly good picture of what I do and where I go on a regular basis. They can predict what I can, and likely will, do. While these issues are important, and I continue to write about them, for this post I want to attend to public documents. Specifically, I want to think about the implications of making legal decisions and court transcripts publicly accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
Welcome to Law, Online
As mentioned I use Google. I also use a series of other search engines, as I’m sure many others do. Some are specialized for journal articles, others for books to borrow, yet others for books to buy, and so on. Sometimes, when I’m bored, I also search for law cases to read up on (yes, I realize that makes it sound like I have too much time on my hands. It’s for research purposes, really!). Members of the Canadian public can request access to judgments that have been made in a Canadian court; while it may cost the first person to request the transcript a few dollars, subsequent visitors will face negligible costs where costs are imposed at all. Digitized judgments are increasingly placed online for major search engines index and which members of the public can access them at any time. This is done in accordance with precedent – citizens have always been able to read transcripts of court cases by visiting the court where the judgment is kept, finding the documents, and sitting down and reading them. The digitization of such documents (the argument goes) is just a natural extension of past systems of public use.