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The privacy paradox: how market privacy facilitates government surveillance

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Although most surveillance studies scholars assume privacy is antithetical to surveillance, critics have recently warned that privacy-based criticisms may facilitate surveillance. That being said, we do not yet have data that show whether privacy claims were used in the past to legitimate government surveillance. This paper addresses that gap by analyzing claims made over one of the U.S.’s most controversial surveillance issues: government control over encryption technologies. A review of Congressional hearings and statements on the Congressional Record (n = 112) reveals that from 1993 to 1999, public debates were dominated by a market liberalization discourse in which participants supported loosening encryption controls as a way to protect privacy from criminal intrusions in market transactions. Also playing a role was a strong skepticism toward government power and a preference for markets as managers of crime prevention. Challenged by these critiques, lawmakers withdrew regulatory proposals and spent the following decade working quietly with private firms to ensure law enforcement surveillance capability. These findings show the expansion of privacy for consumers and entrepreneurs has in fact been used to achieve the contraction of privacy from law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
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Keywords: Economics; iCTs; politics; regulation; sociology; surveillance/privacy

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Publication date: October 3, 2018

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