Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Beyond Moral Coupling: Analysing Politics of Privacy in the Era of Surveillance

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Abstract:  The article calls into question the prevailing discursive construction in contemporary debate on privacy and surveillance. At the core of this discourse is a moral coupling wherein surveillance is perceived as enemy and privacy as friend. Even if this binary approach renders arguments for democratising data more persuasive, a political cost accompanies it. As this discourse situates political struggle at the level of digital infrastructure and political structures, the moral coupling largely overlooks the ambiguities of how people in their various activities in a digital environment experience surveillance and privacy. Such a framing may discourage users at large from engagement with politics of privacy. Edward Snowden’s autobiography is taken as a prominent example of the prevailing discourse. While analysing Snowden’s descriptions of privacy and surveillance critically, the author points out the specific value of life stories in describing what privacy means and why it matters. While we cannot assume all people to be equally capable of considering how their own life intersects with the history of their society, we can presume that varying life stories should contribute to the public knowledge of privacy. To provide the framework necessary for appropriately contextualising empirical evidence, the author presents a model wherein privacy is composed of five dimensions: solitude, anonymity, secrecy, intimacy, and dignity.

Keywords:  digital infrastructure; life-story research; online security; privacy; Snowden; surveillance



© Heikki Heikkilä. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.