Privacy and Transparency


Bendert Zevenbergen (University of Oxford)

Carissa Véliz (University of Oxford)

In June 5, 2013, The Guardian revealed that the telecom company Verizon was providing the United States National Security Agency (NSA) information on its clients’ telephone calls. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden had leaked the classified documents that supported this revelation. On the following day, the public learned of the existence of PRISM, a secret mass electronic surveillance data-collection program launched in 2007 by the NSA with the help of the British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). During the past couple of years we have also gained awareness of privacy threats from private businesses such as Google and Facebook. These and many other revelations have impelled society to revisit its understanding of privacy and its relative position with regards to other values such as security and transparency.

While the thought of losing privacy usually has a negative connotation, gaining transparency is usually considered to be a good thing. Institutions typically pride themselves on being transparent, and public figures who are not transparent may be fiercely criticised for it. Gaining in transparency, however, usually involves a loss of privacy. The privacy scholar Alan Westin believed that “Just as individuals need privacy to obtain release from playing social roles and to engage in permissible deviations from social norms, so organizations need internal privacy to conduct their affairs without having to keep up a ‘public face’” (1967). This assertion may seem misguided. After all, opacity provides people and institutions with the ability to engage in morally and legally questionable acts. At the same time, a society in which absolutely everything is transparent for everyone to see sounds like a dystopia, a world in which mistakes can be fatal, and people may be witch-hunted for not conforming to social norms.

This workshop seeks contributions that clarify the relationship between privacy and transparency. Possible questions addressed include (but are not limited to):

  • Under which circumstances is transparency desirable and when is it no longer desirable?
  • What would a completely transparent society look like? Would it be better or worse than what we have now?
  • When should privacy trump transparency?
  • Should Norway’s tax transparency policy, which makes public every citizen’s income, be exported to other countries? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this policy, especially in relation to privacy?
  • How can we enjoy the benefits of both transparency and privacy in technological systems?
  • How does Rawls’ “publicity principle” apply to government surveillance? Should government surveillance systems and procedures be more transparent?
  • Does transparency of information processing increase consumers’ trust and/or the trustworthiness of the organisation?
  • Should private businesses like Google and Facebook be held to higher, lower, or equal standards of transparency than governments?
  • Is privacy held only by individuals, or also by institutions? What kinds of justifications are available to institutions to defend their privacy from transparency?
  • How should we regulate big data in terms of transparency and privacy?
  • How should we balance transparency and privacy in medical settings?


Contributions are encouraged from doctoral students as well as early career academics and established scholars. The publication of a selection of papers in an edited collection is envisaged.

Please entitle your email “MANCEPT WORKSHOP SUBMISSON” and submit your abstract (500 words maximum) to by Friday May 15th, 2015. Speakers will be expected to submit a draft of their paper (of approximately 10,000 words) for circulation to other participants by August 25th, 2015.

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