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Privacy as Contextual Integrity

Helen Nissenbaum

New York University

Washington Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2004

The practices of public surveillance, which include the monitoring of individuals in public through a variety of media (e.g., video, data, online), are among the least understood and controversial challenges to privacy in an age of information technologies. The fragmentary nature of privacy policy in the United States reflects not only the oppositional pulls of diverse vested interests, but also the ambivalence of unsettled intuitions on mundane phenomena such as shopper cards, closed-circuit television, and biometrics. This Article, which extends earlier work on the problem of privacy in public, explains why some of the prominent theoretical approaches to privacy, which were developed over time to meet traditional privacy challenges, yield unsatisfactory conclusions in the case of public surveillance. It posits a new construct, "contextual integrity," as an alternative benchmark for privacy, to capture the nature of challenges posed by information technologies. Contextual integrity ties adequate protection for privacy to norms of specific contexts, demanding that information gathering and dissemination be appropriate to that context and obey the governing norms of distribution within it. Building on the idea of "spheres of justice," developed by political philosopher Michael Walzer, this Article argues that public surveillance violates a right to privacy because it violates contextual integrity; as such, it constitutes injustice and even tyranny.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 40

Keywords: privacy, data aggregation, data mining

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Date posted: May 31, 2004  

Suggested Citation

Nissenbaum, Helen, Privacy as Contextual Integrity. Washington Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=534622

Contact Information

Helen F. Nissenbaum (Contact Author)
New York University ( email )
New York, NY 10003
United States
212-998-5251 (Phone)
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