Relational Privacy: Surveillance, Common Knowledge, and Coordination

11The University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 1 (2017)

34 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2016 Last revised: 25 Jul 2017

See all articles by Robert H. Sloan

Robert H. Sloan

University of Illinois at Chicago

Richard Warner

Chicago-Kent College of Law

Date Written: November 4, 2016

Abstract

Contemporary surveillance is constant, pervasive, and invasive. Many contend that this creates a current, society-wide threat to the self. However, there are many cases in which surveillance, if appropriately constrained, appears to promote self-realization, at least for a range of social subgroups. So where is the society-wide threat? We contend that surveillance creates such a threat by undermining relational privacy. Relational privacy consists in people voluntarily limiting their knowledge of each other as they interact in a wide variety of social and commercial roles. The group coordination ensures group — and hence “relational” — control over the selective flow of information. Adequate self-realization requires an adequate degree of coordination-enabled control. Surveillance undermines that control. The key to seeing how this happens across society as a whole lies in seeing how group coordination depends on a special form of knowledge — common knowledge, “the recursive belief state in which A knows X, B knows X, A knows that B knows X, B knows that A knows X, ad infinitum.” People succeed in coordinating their efforts at voluntary restraint because they know they will coordinate appropriately, they know they know, know they know they know, and so on. When surveillance undermines such knowledge, it strikes at relational privacy’s foundation and thereby threatens self-realization.

Keywords: privacy, informational privacy, relational privacy, norms, informational norms, coordination, common knowledge, surveillance

JEL Classification: D80, Z18

Suggested Citation

Sloan, Robert H. and Warner, Richard, Relational Privacy: Surveillance, Common Knowledge, and Coordination (November 4, 2016). 11The University of St. Thomas Journal of Law & Public Policy 1 (2017), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2864663 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2864663

Robert H. Sloan

University of Illinois at Chicago ( email )

1200 W Harrison St
Chicago, IL 60607
United States

Richard Warner (Contact Author)

Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )

565 West Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661
United States

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