Privacy & Censorship

Michael E. Kirkpatrick ·

“If the data’s available, shouldn’t we be able to have it?”

That’s the argument I take away from BuzzFeed’s latest post on “How Google And Bing Maps Control What You Can See”. In a way, they’re right. If Google or Microsoft’s satellite or aerial imagery providers remove, blur or otherwise obscure their photos of the ground before licensing them, we — the public — aren’t seeing the whole picture.

The second argument BuzzFeed’s John Herrman makes is that accepting blurred imagery or choosing not to display the highest resolution imagery available is an act of omission and “the purest form of censorship”. My challenge is that omission in of itself is not censorship and rather that censorship is the practice of omission.

On a similar line of thinking, The Atlantic’s Jathan Sandowski takes a stab at why privacy matters, interpreting in part an essay by Georgetown University law professor Julie E. Cohen for a forthcoming article for the Harvard Law Review titled “What Privacy is For”.

“…since life and contexts are always changing, privacy cannot be reductively conceived as one specific type of thing. It is better understood as an important buffer that gives us space to develop an identity that is somewhat separate from the surveillance, judgment, and values of our society and culture. Privacy is crucial for helping us manage all of these pressures — pressures that shape the type of person we are — and for ‘creating spaces for play and the work of self-[development].’ Cohen argues that this self-development allows us to discover what type of society we want and what we should do to get there, both factors that are key to living a fulfilled life.”