Rethinking Privacy in an age of Disclosure and Sharing

Saturday 31 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Upper Gulbenkian Gallery Keynote Controversies

The increasing reach of information technology into all areas of life, from social networking websites to data sharing in public services, has thrown up a number of questions about privacy. Information about our medical records, financial circumstances and shopping habits is increasingly likely to be stored in electronic media that are out of our control. Some critics worry more about Tesco’s data-gathering than any ‘surveillance state’. The controversy about Google Maps’ Street View function, which captured thousands of unwitting people walking or standing on the streets, is a reminder that new technology constantly raises new questions about our privacy. So how worried should we be? Does the convenience of easily accessed information outweigh the danger of abuse? How are our conceptions of privacy changing? And following the success of the Pirate Party in Sweden, can we expect privacy to move up the political agenda in the UK too.

These concerns focus on technological development, but arguably there has been a broader cultural transformation, whereby we are loosening up about what we consider ‘private’. From school to the workplace, we are constantly encouraged to discuss our feelings, while public figures in politics as well as showbiz seem ever-anxious not only to be ‘transparent’ about their work, but to reveal intimate details of their private lives. Some argue we are seeing a fundamental shift in attitudes to privacy, with a whole new generation growing up at ease with sharing pictures and information about themselves online with loosely-defined ‘friends’. Meanwhile, we are increasingly suspicious of goings-on ‘behind closed doors’, and the demand for privacy often seems a cranky hang-up of those with something to hide. In this context, what does it mean to insist on a right to privacy? Should we look to privacy laws to protect those who are less keen on sharing all? Where is the line between public and private today? Do we need to redraw this line and why is this so politically important?

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Peter Barron
director of communications and public affairs, North and Central Europe, Google; former editor, Newsnight

Cory Doctorow
novelist; co-editor,; author, Content: selected essays on technology, creativity, copyright and the future of the future

Dr Norman Lewis
director (innovation), PwC; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Anna Minton
writer and journalist; author, Ground Control: fear and happiness in the twenty-first century city

Claire Fox
director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive

Produced by
Claire Fox director, Academy of Ideas; panellist, BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze; author, I Find That Offensive
Dolan Cummings associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)
Recommended readings
The right to privacy in the Age of Facebook

In an era of voluntary revelation and involuntary regulation, we must find new ways to defend our private lives.

Norman Lewis, spiked, 10 November 2009

The price of the ‘power tax’ is far too high

Our belief that senior politicians have forgone their right to privacy makes leadership impossible in a modern democracy.

David Aaronovitch, The Times, 13 October 2009

Secrets can be good for you. Ask Dan Brown

The move towards transparency in public life has been a huge advance. But individuals still need their privacy protected.

Ben Macintyre, The Times, 17 September 2009

Facebook forced to tighten up privacy rules

Users' control over personal data will be increased following complaints from Canada's privacy commissioner.

Richard Wray, The Guardian, 27 August 2009

Time to Be Afraid of the Web?

Internet users used to comfort themselves by thinking that to become victims of the pirates of the Web, they had to frequent the online porn circuit or respond to an e-mail from the widowed wife of the former central bank governor of Nigeria.

Eduardo Porter, New York Times, 27 August 2009

How much do we really value our privacy?

Privacy groups are convinced that the personal lives of everyone are quickly becoming threatened from the advancements in technology.

Sam Alderwick,, 19 July 2009

Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City

When the figures say crime is falling, why are we more frightened than ever? Could our towns and cities be creating fear and mistrust? More property is being built in Britain than at any time since the Second World War – but it’s owned by private corporations, designed for profit and watched over by CCTV.

Anna Minton, Penguin, 25 June 2009

Is 'reality CCTV' a step too far?

Is a digital television service allowing residents of a London borough to watch CCTV footage on their televisions a step too far?

Liam Allen, BBC News, 8 May 2009

The end of privacy?

Forget Street View, there is a far more subtle - and pervasive - invasion of your private life being carried out - this time through your mobile phone.

Pete Warren, The Guardian, 2 April 2009

Little Brother

The ultimate tale of teen rebellion -- one seventeen-year-old against the surveillance state. Big Brother is watching you. Who's watching back? Marcus is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works -- and how to work the system.

Cory Doctorow, HarperVoyager, 13 October 2008

Facebook and the death of privacy

In order for public and private life to thrive, we need spaces that are absolutely free from the prying eyes of officialdom and others.

Facebook and the death of privacy, spiked, 7 February 2008

Festival Buzz

"The Battle of Ideas goes from strength to strength. The intensity, variety and depth of debate, sustained for an entire weekend, makes for a unique experience charging the intellectual batteries for the rest of the year."
Raymond Tallis, emeritus professor of geriatric medicine, Manchester University