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.
16 November 2016
'Relational Privacy: Surveillance, Common Knowledge, and Coordination' by Robert H. Sloan and Richard Warner comments