Dreamin’ Man: The Role Of Idealism And Pragmatisms In Privacy Advocacy

On June 19th, I had the good fortune of being invited to give a dinner speech to all of the speakers at UofA’s annual access and privacy conference, Performing at the Speed of Change.  Although I fully understood the drill – they wanted a lighthearted and entertaining 20 minute speil – something happened to me on the plane that turned into a Jerry Mcguire moment. I decided instead to take a more heartfelt look at a difficult and often unaddressed set of issues in privacy advocacy.

Many people who attended have urged me to post the speech, which I was originally reluctant to do both because it was a kind of off-the-cuff “moment”, and because a better, more rigorous version of it would have avoided its central problem, which is attaching only a few faces to the various positions rather than surveying a wide variety of people and positions. I reiterate here that none of this was ever meant to be about the people espousing the positions, rather to use famous examples in order to raise interesting and important questions about the appropriate roles of idealism and pragmatism.

Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian was kind enough to provide me with some very useful feedback on my ideas in spite of the fact that some of my remarks about her position were critical and, as I put it in the address, “visceral”. She is a total mensch.

Among many other things, she warned me about the danger of citing the statistics reported by Edward Greenspan, which she claims are in “wild dispute” and, in some cases, “unequivocally incorrect”. Ann also rightly pointed out that my general argument about the politics inherent in some technologies cuts both ways and will therefore work against idealist approaches in many circumstances as well. She also suggested that “privacy by design” can be used in some cases to re-design the politics of technological systems.

I decided not to alter the original text and am trying to decide whether my Jerry Mcguire moment ought to be transformed into an academic study. Let me know what you think !!

If you would like to read the original text, find it here.

For those interested in listening to the speech, you can find it  below.