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Engaging Privacy and Information Technology in a Digital Age

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Privacy is a growing concern in the United States and around the world. The spread of the Internet and the seemingly unbounded options for collecting, saving, sharing, and comparing information trigger consumer worries; online practices of businesses and government agencies present new ways to compromise privacy; and e-commerce and technologies that permit individuals to find personal information about each other only begin to hint at the possibilities.

The literature on privacy is extensive, and yet much of the work that has been done on privacy, and notably privacy in a context of pervasive information technology, has come from groups with a single point of view (e.g., civil liberties advocates, trade associations) and/or a mission that is associated with a point of view (e.g., regulatory agencies) or a slice of the problem (e.g., privacy in a single context such as health care).

Many of the groups that have looked at privacy have tended to be singular in their expertise. Advocacy groups are typically staffed by lawyers, and scholarship activities within universities are conducted largely from the perspective of individual departments such as sociology, political science, or law. Business/management experts address demand for personal information (typically for marketing or e-commerce). Although a few economists have also examined privacy questions (mostly from the standpoint of marketable rights in privacy), the economics-oriented privacy literature is significantly less extensive than the literature on intellectual property or equitable access. In an area such as privacy, approaches from any single discipline are unlikely to “solve” the problem, making it important to assess privacy in a manner that accounts for the implications of technology, law, economics, business, social science, and ethics.
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