The Voiding of Privacy.
by Felix Stalder

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Published as" Felix Stalder (2002) 'The Failure of Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) and the Voiding of Privacy' Sociological Research Online, vol. 7, no. 2,

Most contemporary conceptions of privacy are based on a notion of a separation between the individual and the environment. On the one side of this boundary lies "the private" on the other lies "the public". The struggle over the protection of privacy is about defending this boundary and the individualšs ability to determine who can access the private under what conditions.

Such a conception of privacy, far from being universal, is in fact historically specific. Its rise (and decline) is part of a particular cultural condition connected to the dominance of print media from the 16th to the 20th century. As electronic communications rise in importance, print culture, part of which is the notion of privacy, erodes.

Reacting to this development, academics and the general public have been concerned with the preservation of privacy for more 35 years, precisely the period when the shift from print to electronic communication accelerated. During most of this time, focus of privacy advocates was on the development of policy frameworks. Despite successes, this strategy has, by and large, failed to stop the erosion of privacy.

More recently, a new approach to privacy protection which promises to restore personal privacy has been developed in the context of the Internet: Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs).

This article analyses some of the key PETs and concludes that they, too, fail to protect privacy in the electronic environment. This supports the thesis of the historical situatedness of privacy and raises troubling questions for privacy advocacy in the long term.

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