Roughly, reactions/responses range from a minimum to a maximum amount of information being designated as public or private. These variations, moreover, appear to correlate with several values and sensibilities that are known to vary from culture to culture. One of the most important is suggested in the set of quotations at the beginning of this chapter – in the contrast between the Council of Europe’s articulation of what amounts to individual privacy as a human right vis-à-vis a lack of emphasis on individual privacy in the worldview of ubuntu, for example. Indeed, we will see that this lack of emphasis on individual privacy – in part because of a greater emphasis on community harmony and integration – is characteristic of a wide range of non-Western cultures and traditions.
And within the domain of Western countries and cultures, there are further variations in our expectations regarding privacy that correlate with often very different understandings of the role of the state vis-à- vis the life of the individual.
So, for example, most US students – if they accept the idea of a national identity card at all – are moderately comfortable with a card that would contain name, address, date of birth, and Social Security number. Perhaps religion. Perhaps blood group (in case of a medical emergency). Perhaps driver’s license. Perhaps marital status. But it becomes unclear how much the federal government – or anyone else, for that matter, besides the person who handles my medical bills – needs to know about my health insurance. As for taxation data, including income data – no, thank you! (And, of course, while there are plenty of poor people in the US, they are not “officially registered” – nor, I imagine, would anyone be eager to have that registration included in their identity card.) In Norway, by contrast, everyone’s tax records are published annually online – in part, I am told, so that everyone can see that everyone else is contributing their fair share to the common good.
Danish students and faculty draw the line quickly at religion. This is in keeping with a strong Danish sensibility – encoded in Danish data protection laws (and those of the European Union) – that insists on a (more or less) absolute freedom of belief and viewpoint in matters of political ideology and religion. But if we are to enjoy such freedom (as we will explore more fully below), our beliefs and viewpoints must be protected as personal information.
What about Thai people? Roughly speaking, while there is a strong opposition among some activists and academics to the national “smart ID card,” they have been accepted by the majority of the population as necessary – in part, for example, as such cards, the government has argued, will help in the fight against domestic terrorism. By the same token, while there has been some resistance in the People’s Republic of China regarding the emerging SCS – one that is far more comprehensive in terms of the information it collects – there is also broad support for the system as it promises to reduce corruption while rewarding those who obey the larger social rules: such a system will contribute to “law-abiding and ethical conduct in Chinese society and economy”.
Finally, if you come from a culture shaped by emphases on community harmony – as the ubuntu example suggests, you may see no (good) reason at all for wanting any form of individual privacy.
Overall, then, there emerge these points along a continuum of possible responses:
Minimal info … Moderate info … Maximum info (Denmark) (US) (Thailand) (ubuntu)
(Chinese Social Credit System)
Given this continuum and set of points for the sake of specific national/cultural references, where have you and your cohorts drawn the line?
So far as you can tell at this point, how might your sensibilities regarding privacy be connected with the larger national, political, and cultural environments in which you find yourselves?
Interlude: Can we meaningfully talk about “culture?” Q: How do you tell the difference between an introverted Norwegian and an extroverted Norwegian?