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Data and Dignity: Why Privacy Matters in the Digital Age

Data and Dignity: Why Privacy Matters in the Digital Age

Nathan Mladin on the role of dignity in our modern data–driven society 26/01/2023

It’s becoming old news: we are continually tracked, analysed, and profiled by private companies and governmental agencies. Our data is hoovered up and used to predict and manipulate our behaviour. Indeed, the use of big data and algorithmic systems is on the rise in our world. A new cultural and economic order is here: surveillance capitalism or what this essay calls the “surveillance system”.

The first three chapters of the essay describe this system, looking at social media, facial recognition, and predictive policing.

Of the many concerns raised, privacy is never far from the top. But what is privacy? Most often, it is seen as an individual’s right to control their data. But this is not enough. If it is to serve us well in resisting dehumanising applications of technology, privacy must be re–imagined around a truer, more rounded view of what it means to be human.

Drawing on Christian thought – though anticipating overlap with other religious and philosophical traditions – the second half of the essay sketches a conception of privacy rooted in the notion of dignity and based on the sort of creatures human beings are: embodied (with limits and susceptibilities to be honoured rather than violated for gain); relational (made for relationships of trust and mutual care rather than exploitation); agential (with a capacity for intentional action to be upheld rather than undermined).

Privacy is not dead, nor should it be allowed to die. Privacy is a form of neighbour love in the digital age.

Read the full essay here.

Read Nathan’s summary of Data and Dignity here.


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Photo by Mati Mango on Pexels

Nathan Mladin

Nathan Mladin

Nathan joined Theos in 2016. He holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from Queen’s University Belfast and is the author of several publications, including the Theos reports Data and Dignity: Why Privacy Matters in the Digital Age, Religious London: Faith in a Global City (with Paul Bickley), and ‘Forgive Us Our Debts’: lending and borrowing as if relationships matter (with Barbara Ridpath).

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