Contact info

Privacy and Information Technology
Wednesday and Friday 9:30-10:45 AM
Fall 2014
Helen Nissenbaum, Department of Media, Culture, and Communication


The course welcomes students with varied backgrounds and skills, but some prior understanding of, and experience with either computing (e.g. programming, website creation, active blogging, etc.) or social, political, and ethical analysis is recommended. Familiarity with and interest in issues pertaining to digital technologies and digital media in the context of social life is essential.

For the data-driven world we have become, prior notions of privacy no longer work. We carry mobile devices, use Facebook, shop online, send email, send photos and watch YouTube; we use credit cards, EZ Pass, GPS, and iPhone apps. These systems are useful, maybe even necessary, and often fun. But what do we know about the information they collect about us? What do we know about what they do with this information? Do we, or should we care? Can we do anything to alter or halt these practices? And, if so, why? And how? These key questions are the starting point for this class. We will orient our learning around contemporary cases. From these, we will reach for relevant technical, philosophical, and legal literature to formulate a new and relevant understanding of privacy. Our readings will be multidisciplinary, range from works of scholarship to popular media.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students who successfully complete this course will be able to:
Gain familiarity with the contemporary landscape of privacy threats from digital and information technologies, landmark cases, and literatures
Appreciate philosophical and ethical issues raised by the concept of privacy and its value
Gain insight into political and business issues at stake in privacy threats and proposed solutions
Gain insight into ways the US legal framework addresses privacy issues and some of the shortcomings
Gain insight into regulatory activity focusing on privacy
Learn about underlying technologies and sociotechnical systems responsible for contemporary privacy problems
Gain insight into key actors in the privacy debate, including businesses, government, security and law enforcement, and individual citizens
Finally! Utilize all the above on emerging and unfolding privacy issues

Teaching and Learning Methodologies

The course will be conducted in seminar style with the professor initiating discussion topics and students contributing actively. Because privacy is an active issue in the public sphere, students and professor will engage with unfolding and ongoing questions. Students in this course are expected to engage actively in individual research into topics of interest, sometimes going beyond the materials given in the syllabus.


The foundation for this class is formed by course readings. Students are expected to complete reading assignments before class meetings. I strongly encourage written notes annotated with page numbers, both to engage in discussion and, later, as sources written work. Course readings vary considerably in discipline and level; how difficult students find them will depend on own background familiarity. The effort to gain understanding of these texts is well worth it; bring notes, insights, and questions to class!

Grading Elements:

20% Participation: attendance and contribution to classroom discussion.
10% Mini-presentations: case reports, accompanied by 1-2 page write ups.
10% Midterm quiz: based on core readings
10% Final quiz: based on core readings
20% Short paper: 2-3 page paper in analytical style
30% Final group project: multimedia (video, game, software, poster) and in-class presentation


9/3, 5 Introduction to the course; Snapchat; celebrity leaks

Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009 (Chapters 1-3).

9/10, 12 Then and now; select an issue

Westin, Alan F. "Science, Privacy, and Freedom: Issues and Proposals for the 1970's. Part I--The Current Impact of Surveillance on Privacy." Columbia Law Review (1966): 1003-1050.
Wall Street Journal, "What They Know."

9/17, 19 The value of privacy: why protect it?

Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009 (Intro to Part II, chapters 4 & 5)
Warren, Samuel D., and Louis D. Brandeis. "The Right to Privacy [the Implicit Made Explicit]." Harvard Law Review (1890): 193-220.

9/24 Communications; did the government go too far? Did Snowden go too far?

Snowden, See Folder
Kerr, Ian, and Jena McGill. "Emanations, Snoop Dogs and Reasonable Expectations of Privacy." Crim. LQ 52 (2007): 392.

10/1, 3 What are the biggest threats to privacy? Not Big Brother!; The Scalia Files (Reidenberg); United Hub

Hunter, Larry. "Public Image." Computers, Ethics and Social Values. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ (1995): 293-299.
Rule, James B., et al. "Documentary Identification and Mass Surveillance in the United States." Social Problems (1983): 222-234.
Tirosh, Yofi, and Michael Birnhack. "Naked in Front of the Machine: Does Airport Scanning Violate Privacy?" Ohio State Law Journal 74 (2013): 6.

10/8, 10 Photo tagging; quantified self

Solove, Daniel J. The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. Yale University Press, 2007 (Part I).
Boyd, Danah. It's Complicated: the Social lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press, 2014 (Chapter 2).
Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009 (Chapter 6).

10/15, 17 Contextual integrity

Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009: ch 6, 7.
Bentham, J. 1995. The Panopticon Writings. Edited by M. Bozovic. 31-37. London : Verso.

10/22, 24 Contextual integrity; law and policy

Nissenbaum, Helen. Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Stanford University Press, 2009 ch 8.
Solove, Daniel J., A Brief History of Information Privacy Law. PROSKAUER ON PRIVACY, PLI, 2006; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 215. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=914271
Solove, Daniel J., and Paul M. Schwartz. Privacy Law Fundamentals. Portsmouth, NH: International Association of Privacy Professionals, 2011 (TOC and Chapter 1)
Records, Computers, and the Rights of Citizens. Report of the Secretary's Advisory Committee on Automated Personal Data Systems. 1973. U. S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare (Summary and Recommendations).
Kyllo v. United States and United States v. Jones

11/5, 7 Facebook

Stutzman, Fred, Ralph Gross, and Alessandro Acquisti. "Silent listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook." Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality 4.2 (2013): 2.
Zimmer, Michael. "Mark Zuckerberg's Theory of Privacy." The Washington Post. N.p., 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 2 Sept. 2014.
Johnson, Maritza, Serge Egelman, and Steven M. Bellovin. "Facebook and Privacy: It's Complicated." Proceedings of the eighth symposium on usable privacy and security. ACM, 2012.
Cranor, Laurie F and McDonald Aleecia M. "The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies," ISJLP 4 (2008): 543.

11/12, 14 Advertising

Hoofnagle, Chris Jay, et al. "Behavioral Advertising: The Offer You Can't Refuse." Harvard Law & Policy Rev. 6 (2012): 273.
Turow, Joseph. The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth. Yale University Press, 2012 (Excerpts).
Hoofnagle's privacy surveys.

11/19, 21 Intellectual privacy; privacy enhancing technologies

Kerr, I. "Hacking@Privacy: Anti-Circumvention Laws, DRM and the Piracy of Personal Information," (2005) Canadian Privacy Law Review, I, 25-34.
Cohen, Julie E. "Right to Read Anonymously: A Closer Look at Copyright Management in Cyberspace, A." Conn. L. Rev. 28 (1995): 981.
Howe, Daniel C., and Helen Nissenbaum. "TrackMeNot: Resisting Surveillance in Web Search." Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy, and Identity in a Networked Society 23 (2009): 417-436.

11/26, 28 Anonymity?

Nissenbaum, Helen. "The Meaning of Anonymity in an Information Age." The Information Society 15.2 (1999): 141-144.
Zimmer, M. (2008) "More on the 'Anonymity" of the Facebook Dataset - It's Harvard College," MichaelZimmer.org.

12/3, 5 Big data

Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor, and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013 (Excerpts).
RECOMMENDED Vedder, Anton. "KDD: The Challenge to Individualism." Ethics and Information Technology 1.4 (1999): 275-281.
Ohm, Paul. "Broken Promises of Privacy: Responding to the Surprising Failure of Anonymization." UCLA Law Review 57 (2009): 1701.
Tufekci, Zeynep. "Engineering the Public: Big Data, Surveillance and Computational Politics." First Monday 19.7 (2014).
12/10, 12 Project Presentations

Last Updated: October 27, 2009
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