Current Issue
Next Issue
Call for Papers
About IRIE


MSN Search

Issue No. 017

Vol. 17 - July 2012
Ethics of Secrecy
edited by Daniel Nagel, Matthias Rath, Michael Zimmer

Do you have secrets? We do! We couldn't edit this journal without! Without the anonymous peer reviewing process e.g. or the well kept secrets of our finding the subject, the guest editors etc.. This way we can do our job efficiently and you can consume the outcome - efficiently.

Try to think of it the other way round: what if everything would be fully transparent, democratic and partici-patory. You would be involved in a complex, very interactive process that takes its time and demands costly commitment. You would have all the information but also all the obligations associated with them. Are you - as a reader - willing to invest this effort or do you - for convenience reasons e.g. - accept this informative asymmetry. Informative asymmetries, that is what secrets finally are. And in many cases they are vital for the everyday functioning of so many procedures within our society. There are laws that protect these asymmetries because otherwise companies would go bankrupt, customers would be charged suboptimal prices and markets would collapse. Breaking these asymmetries and taking advantage of that is called insider trading, industrial espionage etc. and prosecuted by law. On the other hand informative asymmetries are what originally markets are designed for to avoid. In a perfect market informed customers take informed decisions thus forcing companies to offer optimal prices (at least better prices than their competitors) for thus fully comparable offerings. Markets are designed to establish informative symmetries by maintaining and protecting informative asymmetries as stated above.

But not only economic structures are at stake. Take something more personal: the person itself - the meaning of the original latin notion 'persona' is 'mask'. It hides the face of the actor from the audience and is thus constitutive for the play. It hides the actor and presents the figure. Is this informative asymmetry associated with the notion 'persona' also constitutive for our being a 'person' - to keep some things hidden from others and present something defined to them? Rather to be a secret than to have secrets? This special issue will explore the complex nature of "secrecy" in our contemporary information society. The ethical exploration of secrecy must be renewed in the face of the multiple and shifting social, political and cultural contexts in which information flows. And maybe this issue thus reduces some informative asymmetries only made possible by maintaining others as stated above.

We thank the editors and authors of this issue for their admirable efforts to clarify the subject and questions concerned and look forward to your valuable feedback.


the Editors.


Full Journal
pdf-fulltext (1.349 KB)

Secrets About Secrecy: An Introduction
by Daniel Nagel, Matthias Rath, Michael Zimmer
Language: English
pdf-fulltext (30 KB)

Secreto, lenguaje y memoria en la sociedad de la información
by Rafael Capurro, Raquel Capurro
Language: Spanish
abstract:   This dialogue between a psychoanalyst (Raquel Capurro) and a specialist in information ethics (Rafael Capurro) deals with the relationship between secrecy, language and memory in the information society. The first part addresses the present debate on privacy and the Internet from a psychoanalytic perspective (Freud, Lacan), taking into consideration the relationship between language and memory. The second part deals with the concept of secrecy with regard to oblivion and censorship in the context of the digital network as a space in which seemingly anyone can tell anything to everybody. The question of "what cannot be said" is posed from a psychoanalytic perspective. The third part explores the relationship between memory and secrecy. Secrecy is defined as a "dispositif of exclusion." The concept of "information society" is contrasted to a "society of secrecy". This strategy opens a debate about the question of secrecy in the information society that might also help to disambiguate this concept when applied to concrete situations and spheres in which the question of where to draw the line arises.
pdf-fulltext (96 KB)

The social dynamics of secrecy: Rethinking information and privacy through Georg Simmel
by Sami Coll
Language: English
abstract:   This article argues that Georg Simmel's ideas on secrecy can shed new light on current debates around the relevance or otherwise of privacy as a protection against surveillance interventions. It suggests an interactional approach to privacy, and considers it as a dynamic process which redefines the boundary between what information should be disclosed and what information should be concealed in every social interaction. Simmel argues that this "natural" process relies on the identification of the interlocutor: her psychological/emotional involvement in the relationship, her social position in society and the representation of her expectations. Recent empirical examples show that this interactional perspective may have the potential to reconcile differing privacy accounts, by linking theoretically different levels that are factually distinct: privacy as a collective fact, as a contextual integrity, and as an individual fact.
pdf-fulltext (132 KB)

You Are What Google Says You Are: The Right to be Forgotten and In-formation Stewardship
by Meg Leta Ambrose
Language: English
abstract:   The right to be forgotten is a proposed legal response to the potential harms caused by easy digital access to information from one's past, including those to moral autonomy. While the future of these proposed laws is unclear, they attempt to respond to the new problem of increased ease of access to old personal information. These laws may flounder in the face of other rights and interests, but the social values related to moral autonomy they seek to preserve should be promoted in the form of widespread ethical information practices: information stewardship. Code, norms, markets, and laws are analyzed as possible mechanisms for fostering information stewardship. All these mechanisms can support a new user role, one of librarian - curator of digital culture, protector of networked knowledge, and information steward.
pdf-fulltext (125 KB)

The promise of ethical secrecy: can curiosity overcome automated group-think?
by Juliet Lodge
Language: English
abstract:   Secrecy and transparency are fundamentally undermined by automated decisionmaking that transforms our understanding of where we begin and end, of self and society. This article considers whether and how technological applications compromise secrecy, transform our perception of the idea appropriate disclosure, our interaction in society and the society itself. It argues that secrecy is part of a continuum of transparency and accountability that cannot be reliably sustained and mediated by automated decisionmaking devoid of curiosity. Do we need an ethics of secrecy derived, perhaps, from our understanding of harmful effects of disclosure?
pdf-fulltext (142 KB)

Government Secrecy, the Ethics of Wikileaks, and the Fifth Estate
by Edward H. Spence
Language: English
abstract:   This paper aims to systematically explore and provide answers to the following key questions: When is government secrecy justified? In a conflict between government secrecy and the public's right to be informed on matters of public interest, which ought to take priority? Is Julian Assange a journalist and what justifies his role as a journalist? Even if Julian Assange is a journalist of the new media, was he justified in disseminating classified information to the public? Who decides what is in "the public interest"? Is it only journalists of the Fourth Estate who decide that or also journalists of the Fifth Estate (new media)? This paper will answer the aforementioned questions by arguing that the media in the form of both the Fourth and Fifth Estates should inform the public on matters of public interest truthfully and ethically, even if sometimes they have to breach government secrecy.
pdf-fulltext (140 KB)

Auto-biography: On the Immanent Commodification of Personal Infor-mation
by Kenneth C. Werbin
Language: English
abstract:   In the last years, a series of automated self-representational social media sites have emerged that shed light on the information ethics associated with participation in Web 2.0. Sites like Zoominfo.com, Pipl.com, 123People.com and Yasni.com not only continually mine and aggregate personal information and biographic data from the (deep) web and beyond to automatically represent the lives of people, but they also engage algorithmic networking logics to represent connections between them; capturing not only who people are, but whom they are connected to. Indeed, these processes of 'auto-biography' are 'secret' ones that for the most part escape the user's attention. This article explores how these sites of auto-biography reveal the complexities of the political economy of Web 2.0, as well as implicate an ethics of exposure concerning how these processes at once participate in the erosion of privacy, and at the same time, in the reinforcement of commodification and surveillance regimes.
pdf-fulltext (83 KB)


 Home ] [ Current Issue ] Next Issue ] Archive ] Call for Papers ] About IRIE ]

Copyright © 2011 International Review of Information Ethics - all rights reserved
Privacy Policy, Legal Statement and Impressum
Last Update: 12/07/18