Thomas Meaney bezieht sich im Text Private Lives zum besseren Verständnis des Konzepts der Privatsphäre auf Jean-Jacques Rousseau und die Freimaurer. Ersterer als der Begründer des Begriffs einer individuellen Authentizität, letztere als historisches Beispiel für politisch-gesellschaftliche Rückzugsorte. Beide sind ohne Privatsphäre nicht denkbar, werden aber nur selten in Zusammenhang gebracht, dabei zeigen grade aktuelle Debatten und erneuerte Forderungen nach Extremismus-Paragraphen die Notwendigkeit einer breit geführten Diskussion um den Wert der Privatsphäre.
Bereits zu Zeiten des NSA-Skandals lag mein Protest allerdings vor allem darin begründet, dass meine Daten als Waffe verwendet werden, sei es nur als Noise-Partikel zur Identifizierung von Wen-auch-immer-irgendwelche-Schlapphüte identifizieren wollen und auch heute interessiert mich Privatsphäre im Sinne staatlicher Überwachung nur am Rande. Zwar ist der Schutz von Privatsphäre grade gegenüber staatlichen Organen und Institutionen imperativ wichtig und zu schützen – schon aus Gründen des Gewaltmonopols – das macht die Diskussionen darum allerdings philosophisch für mich nicht interessanter, denn der Staat trägt keinen Jota zu meiner Identitätsbildung bei. Anders gesagt: Wenn das Finanzamt meine Porn-History kennt, juckt mich das nur sehr wenig, denn das Finanzamt juckt mich nur einmal im Jahr und ansonsten kann Herr Ernie Müller vom Amt von mir halten, was sie will.
Aber hier wird das Thema schließlich doch interessant und vor allem hier setzt der Artikel Being Known von Lowry Pressly an, der die ganz grundsätzliche Frage nach der tatsächlichen Schädigung durch Überwachung nachgeht, die nicht so einfach zu beantworten ist, wie es Privacy-Advokaten/Kritiker gerne hätten. Denn nähmen wir einmal an, ich hätte Zugang zu den privatesten Informationen von Frau Redcorvette, ich wüsste alles über sie, hätte ihr komplettes Leben durchleuchtet sowie ihre Festplatten. Die Redcorvette wüsste davon allerdings nichts, niemand würde ihr davon erzählen, ihr Leben wäre nicht beeinträchtigt. Worin liegt die tatsächliche Schädigung?
If I never find out about the invasion of my privacy, how can it be said that I was harmed? Such a question is motivated by two important assumptions: one is the assumption that, barring some Truman Show-level conspiracy, it is safe to assume that if I never find out about the violation, then my life was not meaningfully affected by it; the other is that privacy is an instrumental good. According to the instrumental understanding of privacy, I want privacy because I want other things that would be impossible or at least more difficult to achieve without my privacy being respected. In other words, when you violate my privacy by monitoring my internet activity or by listening to my phone calls, you can interfere with my personal ends and projects. Violations of privacy are harmful to me insofar as they stymie my goals, aspirations, etc. […]
Imagine that a bored hacker halfway around the world is monitoring your computer activity for reasons she does not entirely understand. She sees every keystroke, every bad draft and every strange web search, though she never does anything with this information, and your life—your reputation, your personal and career prospects, your psychological well-being, etc.—is not affected in any observable way. Nor do any systemic harms follow, like the kind that have come from some state-sanctioned programs of surveillance. Clearly your privacy has been violated and, therefore, it seems that you have suffered harm. But what might this harm be?
Lowry beantwortet die Frage nach dem Schaden mit einer ähnlichen Ambivalenz: Der Schaden durch die Verletzung der Privatsphäre betrifft die Identität selbst, das eigene Ich, das weder eine reine Privatangelegenheit ist, noch ausschließlich durch die Umwelt bestimmt wird. Das Ich entsteht in einer Verhandlung mit dem sozialen Umfeld, eine ständige Kommunikation des Selbstbildes mit der Reaktion, die es hervorruft, und erst durch diesen Dialog entsteht Identität. Das Finanzamt hat mit dieser Verhandlung genau nichts zu tun, sie wird vor allem durch Freunde, Partner und Familie geführt. Darauf erst folgen formalere Umgebungen wie Arbeitsplatz oder Schule und selbst dort ist es vor allem das soziale Umfeld, nicht die Institution selbst.
Der eigentliche Schaden durch Überwachung entsteht durch die Störung genau dieses Dialogs. Diese Störung kann durch staatliche Überwachung geschehen, der Verursacher ist aber letztlich zweitrangig. Überwachung verhindert und verzerrt Identitätsbildung und genau hier liegt die Wurzel ihrer Zerstörungskraft.
If you discover that you have been betrayed by someone, you are hurt and angry not because the betrayal was brought to your attention, but because you were betrayed. Indeed, even in the case where you never discover that you have been double-crossed, it feels like the betrayer was nevertheless wrong to do what he did and that you, as the one betrayed, have still suffered harm. In just the same way it seems clear that even if you never find out that someone has been monitoring your internet traffic or watching you in the shower, you have still suffered a violation of your privacy. This means that the violation itself is the harm, not the feeling that follows from its discovery. A feeling of violation is surely also a bad thing—it is an unpleasant experience, to say the least—but if the harm of being known consisted entirely in the sense of violation, we would find ourselves trapped in a circle (i.e. you feel violated because you feel violated) and no closer to explaining how it could be bad for you to be observed by your secret hacker, or to understanding what privacy is for. From some general ethical perspective, it seems the hacker has acted wrongly toward you, but this judgment does not account for the fact that what she has done is bad for you. Yet this again invites the question: Bad how, or, bad in what way?
One way of resolving our conflicting intuitions of “foul and no harm” in this case might have something to do with the kind of thing a self is. By “self” I just mean what we generally mean by that word: the expansive answer to the questions “Who am I?” and “Who is Lowry Pressly?” given by me and others respectively. At some level we all know that who we are is not completely up to us; it’s why we keep most of what we think to ourselves, and it’s why we wear one face at work and another within the confines of our homes. The person I think I am is quite different from the person (or persons) the world thinks I am, and the gap between the two matters to me—which significance would be a kind of psychopathology if how others knew us had no effect on who we know ourselves to be. […]
How I appear to the world of others is what gives me my objective existence, and it is through dialogue with and struggle against this objective self that I become who I am. Society not only gives me that objective existence, but also reflects it back to me as my self. Consider, for example, these lines from Yeats’s “A Dialogue of Self and Soul”:
How in the name of Heaven can he escape
That defiling and disfigured shape
The mirror of malicious eyes
Casts upon his eyes until at last
He thinks that shape must be his shape?
Der Schaden durch die Verletzung der Privat-/Intimsphäre liegt für Pressly (wie für mich) vor allem im Wissen um die Informationen selbst begründet, die Identität konstituieren und die eben nicht bilateral zwischen Individuum und Kollektiv verhandelt, sondern unilateral eingeschätzt wird – aufgrund irgendeiner Datenlage, die in jedem Fall inkomplett und ungenau ist. Die Identitätsbildung im Verhältnis zu Gesellschaft wird mindestens verzerrt, selbst wenn nur eine einzige Hackerin ein falsches Bild aufgrund ihrer immer unzureichenden Daten erlangt.
Der tatsächliche Schaden durch die Verletzung der Privatsphäre liegt also vor allem im Raub einer der elementarsten Eigenschaften des Menschen begründet: Der Entwicklung einer individuellen und authentischen Identität im Dialog mit seinem sozialen Umfeld. Überwachung bedeutet also in jedem Fall einen persönlichen Verrat am Individuum – völlig egal, von welcher Stelle aus diese Überwachung erfolgt.
Being Known by Lowry Pressly (The Point Mag)
Jeremy Bentham once based a whole architecture of punishment on the tremendous psychological power wielded by the invisible omnipresence of even a possible gaze. One could also recall Adam Smith’s falsely accused man, who will inevitably begin to think of himself in the terms used by his accusers, or why the phrase “if you only knew what everyone really thought of you…” can be so cruel.
One of the reasons shame is such a powerful emotion is that we are made to feel that we are in fact, in our secluded subjective selves, the objective self that exists in the unreachable minds of others, defenselessly subject to their appraisals: we are what they make of us and nothing more. […]
Suppose you have an abiding and yet shameful interest in, say, graffiti art, and accordingly you spend a great deal of time online researching the history of the form, its virtuosos and so forth. And suppose that across the world your solitary hacker is monitoring your every keystroke without your knowledge, and without ever sharing her findings with anyone. In this case, you will live your whole life without having your social self reflect this information that you did not want it to reflect. You can become a crusader against graffiti if you like, and you can be known and remembered as such by your friends, family and countrymen. The harm thus characterized—the one you do not suffer—would be instrumental in the sense that the violation of your privacy interferes with your project of projecting a certain self-image onto the world of others. So then what sort of non-instrumental harm could your self have suffered from this violation of your privacy?
If your internet searches concerning illicit wall painting (or your medical ailments, political affiliations, etc.) are not exposed, then there is always the possibility that you might become a person who does or does not love street art, or who does or does not have chronic pain or genital lesions (or who has never or always loved or had such things). Your self might never be solidified in this way— there might always be some indeterminacy or ambiguity regarding your tastes, health and turn-ons for the world of others, of course, but also for your own self-conception. Once your search history is known, however, it’s no longer possible for you to be one thing or the other, both and neither, if only for this one antipodal hacker. Who you are, in a very real way, has become a little more concrete, and it is this person whom you will now potentially be forced to confront in the alienating mirror of society’s eyes.
If the stranger monitoring your internet traffic sees you as someone interested in graffiti art, then there is no way you can ever be someone who wasn’t interested in graffiti art, if only for this one person. You might actually have a bred-in-the-bone antipathy bordering on hatred for all pictures on walls, but now that the other knows you as an aficionado, either (a) in the case of the knower whose snooping you have become aware of, you are now forced to respond, further exposing yourself, or you can leave it; or (b) you do nothing, as in our case of the unknown knower when there literally is nothing you can do. By looking at you or by monitoring your internet traffic, the unknown knower robs you of some of the possibility that is inherent in your self as a social creature. And it makes about as much sense to say that she robs you of that possibility without your permission as it does to say that I stole your TV without your permission. In other words, it’s not the transgression of the bounds of consent that is at issue here; rather, it is something deeper, something that more directly affects who we are. The multitudes that you contain, to paraphrase Whitman, have decreased in number as a result of your being known.
Being known is a problem for celebrities, of course, and for people whose image is their livelihood; accordingly, U.S. tort law has developed to protect the privacy of those selves that command a premium in the marketplace. But if the harm is not a harm to one’s reputation or a hindrance of one’s ends (even in the project of self-making), but rather consists in the solidifying or reifying of one’s possibilities, then it seems that harm would pertain to your self as the object of a single, unknown knower, as well as to the movie star caught by paparazzi playing bongos in the buff. And if that’s the harm, then the difference between one person and the whole world knowing you in this regard is one of degree and not of kind. It is probably worse for one thousand people to know you as the result of a privacy violation than it is for the single snooper in our example, but that does not mean that the latter case is not bad for you.
Whether this kind of harm disappears when the knower forgets or dies, I am not sure. In a strange way, being known calls to mind the extramission theory of vision, which supposed that being seen consisted in being literally touched by beams emitted from the seer’s eyes. It is hard to imagine that the harms of a solidified self and of stolen possibilities mean much after the knower no longer knows. Perhaps the harm ought not to be looked at from an atemporal standpoint, then, but rather in terms of one’s entire life. It does seem sensible to say that it was bad that you were deprived of some possibility for a time, even if you did eventually get it back (the same way it is still wrong for me to steal your TV even if I give it back after the Super Bowl).
Perhaps ultimately it might not make sense to insist on the strict separation of “being known” from the modifying phrase “without my permission.” Maybe there is, in fact, something essentially permissory about being known. The experiences of willingly exposing ourselves to others through relationships of love, friendship, camaraderie and the like demonstrate to us the value of giving and receiving permission to know and be known. Because of this, when we think about privacy violations, we look first for failures of permission. Indeed, part of what makes the bonds of intimacy so strong is the willing solidification of one’s self before the mirror of another’s eyes. Even so, it still seems there might be something to our other intuition, that there can be harm in simply being known, that even if a gaze cannot literally touch us it can still shape us from afar.
Private Lives by Thomas Meaney (The Point Mag)
Today the dominant mood is neither pride nor anger but apathy, whatever newspaper columnists would have us believe. Liberal societies have gathered quantities of data beyond the dreams of the most ambitious Communist bureaucrat—yet protests have been comparatively mild, and few have chosen to withdraw from the online portals where most of the spying gets done. […]
It was not until the eighteenth century […] that privacy began to take on the significance that it has for today’s debates. For European elites following Rousseau, privacy was associated less with civility than with a new and more amorphous moral imperative, now known as authenticity. In his political philosophy, Rousseau imagined a society in which individuals could legitimately subsume their private interests, but he considered actually existing society to be a mostly corrupting influence on the individual. In his famous work on education, he prescribes his philosophical guinea pig, Emile, more than a decade of isolation in order to fully develop his capacities before entering into marriage and society. Yet in his Confessions—the first great modern tell-all—Rousseau also provided a model for how to “share” one’s authentic private experiences with the public. The result was a surge of vapid diarists, all anxious to prove that they too had a singular inner life.
The Age of Authenticity was also the age of the modern novel—another genre for which Rousseau’s contribution was transformative. His Julie, read by some as his most persuasive articulation of the ethics of authenticity, was the best-selling book of its century in Europe. French novelists of the next century were left with no choice but to reckon with it. One of Flaubert’s great insights was to see that vapidity itself did not mean an absence of genuine feeling. When Madame Bovary’s lover Rodolphe becomes bored by his mistress’s clichéd outpourings, it is not her but him that Flaubert condemns: “He did not distinguish—this man of so much experience—the difference of feeling beneath the sameness of expression.” It’s a distinguishing mark of “modern” humans, in any case, that we feel the need to prove that our inner life is not hollow. Later novelists continued to play variations on the theme: Proust and Joyce could get away with writing about the minutiae of private life in part because of their mock-epic style, which carried their quotidian freight to philosophical destinations. A more radical risk has been taken by Knausgaard, who has forsaken the safeguard of style altogether: the Norwegian raises the stakes of authenticity by telling his story in the most artless sentences possible.
But what is the link between the cult of authenticity and the sort of privacy that works toward the social good in a liberal polity? From one perspective, the widespread retreat among artists and philosophers into the caverns of the self was a testament to the fading promise of Romantic politics; having failed to transform Europe in the wake of the Age of Revolution, they would have to rest content with transforming their inner selves instead.
At the same time, there was one slice of eighteenth-century society that did attempt to create a bridge between privacy as a self-oriented value and privacy as a precondition for the effective reform of society. This was the cult of Freemasonry. The Masonic associations were seedbeds for the revolutionary tumult that would eventually bring down the ancient regimes of Europe. Their lodges, shrouded in secrecy, were thought to allow space for the development of the moral authority they needed to question the state. A pamphlet from a German lodge in 1859 states that the private lodges do “what neither the state nor the church can. [They] will increase and spread inner virtue and probity.” But they were also meant to protect those who wanted to think and organize against the prevailing politico-economic order without being crushed or infiltrated in advance.