Upgrading Privacy Theory: A Systemic Turn

23 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 3 Jan 2013

See all articles by Ryan Biava

Ryan Biava

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2011


In liberal democratic countries, discussions of privacy generally revolve around the ability of individuals to shield and control certain of the data that describe them, such as information about one’s finances, health, or online behavior. I view this approach as fundamentally incomplete, and propose that we use the notion of privacy to cover a set of struggles by political actors of all types - public, private, individual, and institutional - to remain autonomous in the modern liberal democratic polity. Doing so puts an end to the multiplication of concepts across what I argue is a similar field of political struggle, to the benefit of the public as well as academics. Actors’ political autonomy have been threatened by the existence and undisciplined operation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), triggered chiefly by the introduction and uptake of the Internet. This systemic approach to privacy allows us to explore the ways it is regulated - what I call the “privacy regime” - in multiple countries. Coupled with a definition of privacy that is squarely and pragmatically adapted to the technological realities of today, we provide ourselves the necessary theoretical model to respond to the pressing analytical needs posed by the increasingly pitched battles between different political actors over technology and autonomy. Taking a longer view, the debate over privacy opens a new chapter in which political actors become more fully aware of the acute dangers of unchecked, advancing technologies. Recasting privacy politics in this way, we inscribe it into a frame that is familiar to scholars interested in power, the organization of interests, and the logic of liberal democracy.

Keywords: privacy, technology, democracy, liberal democracy

Suggested Citation

Biava, Ryan, Upgrading Privacy Theory: A Systemic Turn (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1901873

Ryan Biava (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison - Department of Political Science ( email )

1050 Bascom Mall
Madison, WI 53706
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics