79 Wash. L. Rev. 119 (2004)
Privacy as Contextual Integrity

handle is hein.journals/washlr79 and id is 129 raw text is: Copyright C 2004 by Washington Law Review Association

Helen Nissenbaum*
Abstract: The practices of public surveillance, which include the monitoring of
individuals in public through a variety of media (e.g., video, data, online), are among the least
understood and controversial challenges to privacy in an age of information technologies.
The fragmentary nature of privacy policy in the United States reflects not only the
oppositional pulls of diverse vested interests, but also the ambivalence of unsettled intuitions
on mundane phenomena such as shopper cards, closed-circuit television, and biometrics. This
Article, which extends earlier work on the problem of privacy in public, explains why some
of the prominent theoretical approaches to privacy, which were developed over time to meet
traditional privacy challenges, yield unsatisfactory conclusions in the case of public
surveillance. It posits a new construct, contextual integrity, as an alternative benchmark for
privacy, to capture the nature of challenges posed by information technologies. Contextual
integrity ties adequate protection for privacy to norms of specific contexts, demanding that
information gathering and dissemination be appropriate to that context and obey the
governing norms of distribution within it. Building on the idea of spheres of justice,
developed by political philosopher Michael Walzer, this Article argues that public
surveillance violates a right to privacy because it violates contextual integrity; as such, it
constitutes injustice and even tyranny.
Privacy is one of the most enduring social issues associated with
information technologies. It has been a fixture in public discourse
through     radical   transformations      of   technology      from    stand-alone
computers, housing massive databases of government and other large
institutions, to the current distributed network of computers with linked
information systems, such as the World Wide Web, networked mobile
devices, video and radio-frequency surveillance systems, and computer-
enabled biometric identification. Among many privacy controversies that
have stirred public concern, a particular set of cases, to which I have
applied the label public surveillance, remains vexing not only because
these cases drive opponents into seemingly irreconcilable stances, but
because traditional theoretical insights fail to clarify the sources of their
controversial nature.' This Article seeks to shed light on the problem of
. Associate Professor, Department of Culture & Communication, New York University, East
Building 7th Floor, 239 Greene Street, New   York, New    York 10003. E-mail address:
Many people and institutions have inspired and helped me in this endeavor, beginning with the
Institute for Advanced Study, School of Social Sciences, where I wrote and presented early drafts.

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