Normalizing Surveillance

Northern European Journal of Philosophy 22, 1 (2021): 49-74

25 Pages Posted: 12 Jul 2021

See all articles by Evan Selinger

Evan Selinger

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy

Judy Hyojoo Rhee

Duke University

Date Written: July 9, 2021


Definitions of privacy change, as do norms for protecting it. Why, then, are privacy scholars and activists currently worried about “normalization”? This essay explains what normalization means in the context of surveillance concerns and clarifies why normalization has significant governance consequences. We emphasize two things. First, the present is a transitional moment in history. AI-infused surveillance tools offer a window into the unprecedented dangers of automated real-time monitoring and analysis. Second, privacy scholars and ac- tivists can better integrate supporting evidence to counter skepticism about their most disturbing and speculative claims about normalization. Empirical results in moral psychology support the assertion that widespread surveillance typically will lead people to become favorably disposed toward it. If this causal dynamic is pervasive, it can diminish autonomy and contribute to a slippery slope trajectory that diminishes privacy and civil liberties.

Keywords: normalization, surveillance, privacy, civil liberties, moral psychology, function creep, surveillance creep, slippery slope arguments

Suggested Citation

Selinger, Evan and Rhee, Judy Hyojoo, Normalizing Surveillance (July 9, 2021). Northern European Journal of Philosophy 22, 1 (2021): 49-74, Available at SSRN:

Evan Selinger (Contact Author)

Rochester Institute of Technology - Department of Philosophy ( email )

92 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623-5670
United States
(585) 475-2531 (Phone)

Judy Hyojoo Rhee

Duke University ( email )

100 Fuqua Drive
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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