Genies: Bottled and Unbottled
Some Thoughts on the Properties of Information

In M. Hildebrandt and B. van den Berg, Freedom and Property of Information: The Philosophy of Law Meets the Philosophy of Technology. Routledge, 2014. Paper prepared for conference on Internet Freedom, Copyright and Privacy, CPDP, Brussels, 2013. I am most grateful to Mireille Hildebrandt for her insightful comments facilitating communication across disciplines and continents.

By Gary T. Marx, Professor Emeritus, MIT  |  Bio  |  Back to Main Page

Table 1  |  Table 2  |  Table 3  |  Table 4  |  References  |  Notes

You can look, but you can’t touch.
     —Sign in ceramics shop

Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s hard to get it back in.
     —H.R. Haldeman on Watergate

Free smells.
     —Sign in Jimmy Joe's Restaurant, Seattle

In the introduction to the seminar that inspired this volume, Mireille Hildebrandt asked, 'how does the architecture of the Internet afford and constrain transformations in the substance of copyright and or privacy?’ A reverse question lurks as well, ‘how does the nature and setting of what is to be afforded or constrained affect the architectures (physical, social and legal) that appear?’ The electronic copyright and privacy issues treated in this volume, as important as they are, form a relatively small strand in the role that communication and data exchange/use play as universal aspects of human society (and maybe aspects of animal society as well, given their taking in and giving off of data/signals) 1. Electronic information and data 2., as topical as they are, need to be seen within a broader context, which far transcends the latest newsworthy crise du jour.

The relative accessibility or inaccessibility of information is central to many current and enduring conflicts over communication and surveillance: from WikiLeaks to found DNA; from censorship, gag rules, confidentiality and classification policies to free speech zones, disclosure statements and freedom of information policies; and from warnings and laws about copying DVDs, sharing music files, using cell phone cameras in athletic clubs or videotaping in theaters to requirements that police interrogations be videotaped and rules protecting citizen’s right to make video and audio recordings in public (even of police who might be videotaping citizens at the same time.)3. Controversies over use of a hidden device to jam loud cell phone conversations in public or to remotely destroy information on a computer or illegally interpreted satellite TV signals, offer other illustrations of current contestation. 4. A factor related to some of the above involves controversies over the legality and accessibility of the various material tools used to obtain and to block information.

The eternal conflicts involved with efforts to free up or to restrict accessibility are central to the concerns of this book—whether this involves pursuing the former in the name of freedom of information, free speech, and democratic accountability or the latter on behalf of national security, law enforcement, diplomacy and property rights and its curious bedfellow privacy.5. The presence or absence of various kinds of borders, which may include or exclude the flow of information, persons, goods, resources and opportunities, are central to the topic (Zuriek and Salter 2006, Andreas and Nadelmann 2006). The borders or barriers which, depending on their permeability, make information available or block it, can be physical/logistical or cultural. Examples of the former are distance, darkness, time, dense undergrowth, disaggregated data and the face (which may mask true feelings, but a masked face is an even better example). In the absence of a physical/technical blockage some data are immediately available to anyone with normal senses and cognition, for example, seeing a person's unmasked face or observing apparent gender, height, and age. But we should also note the existence of rules that attempt to alter this initial availability-unavailability. Some obvious examples of rules to inhibit or facilitate the flow of data are those protecting privacy and confidentiality or those requiring informed consent or freedom of information.

Like the proverbial sound of the forest tree falling in the absence of a listener, the potential reception of the data depends on the senses of the receptor. ‘Naturally’ available visual and oratory data are not accessible to the blind and deaf, absent mechanical supports that amplify or convert data and one must know something of the sounds of a language to put it to use. Yet some data does have a relatively more literal quality as with certain signals in sign language. Contrast the seemingly more inherent meaning of indicators for ‘I’ and ‘You', when pointing at oneself and another person with the sound for the words or their appearance in different scripts. Some Japanese and some other written pictograph inspired languages have remnants of a more ostensive reference. The relationships between properties of the physical world and the presence of rules and hard technologies (which become part of the physical world as a result of human actions) are understudied. Some natural conditions mean that there is no need for a protective rule (when protection is desired), at least until technology manages to pierce protective borders (note the 19th century development of photography or the current claims of brain wave reading technology used for lie detection). In other cases, this very protection can create a perceived need to have a rule and/or technology that overcomes the protective border. 6. Rules (whether legal, administrative, or informal as with manners) are aspects of culture intended to direct behavior. Table 1 combines the physical and cultural variables in order to yield a typology of types of information control or outcome with respect to the two kinds of border.

Table 1: Borders and Information






No (Soft)

Yes (Hard)


 No (Open/free)


Looking at a person speaking to you, city borders

Sense limitations (darkness, distance, walls)

Yes (Closed/ unfree)

Staring, backstage regions, privacy and confidentiality expectations, religious and sacred areas, DVD, music file sharing

Convents, military bases, vaults

This table highlights four situations that result from considering the presence or absence of cultural and physical borders with respect to the flows of personal information.

An example of where both cultural and physical borders are present is a prison (cell 4). In the absence of either border, only manners and limits on the senses prevent seeing and making inferences about a person encountered on the street or overhearing the conversation of nearby persons (cell 1). Anti-stalking laws and manners, such as ‘don’t stare’, illustrate cultural borders in the absence of a physical border (cell 3). Cell 2 illustrates the case of being beyond the range of another’s unaided seeing or hearing, which protects information even in the absence of rules.

Of course physical and cultural barriers are not independent, although in general more attention is given to how the latter alters the physical than how the physical conditions the culture. 7. This paper first considers the initial presence or absence of physical barriers or supports to data access. The latter part of the paper considers how culture often subsequently creates or undermines barriers to data access. Relative to the givens (or at least starters) of the physical and temporal worlds, culture provides a more artificial kind of prop for information control. It tells us what data means (for instance, private or public) and in offering directives for behavior such as for the freedom or protection of data, culture may seek to alter the givens of the natural world. My goal here is to categorize types of information about persons and to specify connections between the physical and the cultural, with a particular interest in how the former may condition the kinds of rules that appear.

As is now so well known, gigantic industries and state organizations (not to mention employers, parents and the curious) use ever more sophisticated tools to access other’s information and to a lesser extent provide tools to protect information. The qualitative and quantitative changes in surveillance in recent decades triggered my interest in the topic with respect to questions of privacy, information protection and resistance (Marx 2003, 2009, forthcoming). Since finishing a book on undercover police several decades ago I have been concerned with issues involving secrecy and the revelation and concealment of information. This has involved empirical studies of topics such as work monitoring, caller-id, informers, whistle blowers, hot-lines, freedom of information acts, notice and informed consent. Much of that prior work dealt with the uncovering of information that is relatively inaccessible, while not thinking much about information that is accessible. 8. In contrast this chapter begins with data that are relatively accessible, particularly as it involves the initial conditions around what comes to be information. Accessibility will be seen as a property of data, and after assessing this particular property, the chapter turns to the meaning of other properties that are used to characterize the person. It does this by identifying descriptive and analytic attributes of the kinds of data that can be attached to persons. My goal is to contribute to the creation of a more systematic sociology of information, which can bring some conceptual unity to the discovery and protection issues and related questions.

The sociology of information
There is need for a situational or contextual approach, which, while not denying some commonalties across communication and surveillance behavior, emphasizes patterned differences. Such an approach offers a systematic account of the empirical variations whose causes, processes and consequences need to be organized to be better understood.

Amidst the sweeping claims (whether of dystopians, utopians, ideologues, commercial entrepreneurs, single case study over-generalizers, or one trick pony theoretical reductionists), we need to specify. Conclusions, whether explanatory, evaluative or for public policy, require identifying the dimensions by which the richness of the empirical world can be parsed into dissimilar or similar analytic forms in the hope of revealing patterns amongst the seeming chaos. The emerging field of the sociology of information provides an approach to the topic (Marx 2007, Marx and Muschert 2007). Using the method of analytic induction (Robinson 1951) I draw from myriad empirical examples to generate concepts that can contain the major sources of variation.

Key elements in this approach are that we should attend to:

  1. A family of distinct yet related concepts relating to information, for instance, privacy and publicity, public and private, personal and impersonal data, surveillance and surveillance neutralization, secrecy, confidentiality, anonymity, pseudo-anonymity, identifiability, and confessions;

  2. The characteristics of the data-gathering technique: (contrast the unaided and aided sense, for instance, directly overhearing a conversation or intercepting electronic communication on the internet, or, a written account by a third party of an event vs. the same event revealed by a hidden video camera);

  3. The goals pursued (contrast collecting information to prevent a health epidemic with the spying of the voyeur or spying for national security);

  4. Role relationships and other social structural aspects, for instance, contrast parents gathering personal information on children with an employer or merchant gathering information on employees or customers, and contrast these with the reciprocal and equivalent watching of industrial espionage agents or poker players;

  5. Space/location/time (contrast personal information in a home or office with that on a public street or in cyberspace, or the past vs. the future);

  6. Cultural themes which provide meaning and direction in telling us why communication and surveillance are needed, or why they are themselves the problem, and how they should be experienced by subjects, agents, senders and receivers of information and broader audiences;

  7. The dynamic aspects viewed over time, as groups and individuals struggle to make the accessible inaccessible or the reverse;

  8. The characteristics of the data. What are the characteristics of the datum in its most basic form? What social meanings are attached to this and to the subsequent forms and categories that are constructed (contrast a general characteristic such as gender or age or anonymity with a more specific characteristic that provides a unique and locatable identity, or with the assignment of a particular pattern of data points to a category such as credit worthy). How are these characteristics affected by the form in which the data are gathered and presented?
In this paper I give particular attention to the questions in #8 above and to the character of the data gathering or presentation technique (# 2 above).

Information’s accessibilities
A central contribution of social studies of science and technology (STS) is of course to document the role of interests and culture in the design and application of technology. Culture and interests affect what gets ground out of the sausage machine and officially counts as food (if not food for thought, then at least data for analysis). Technical structures (whether hardware or software) and what subsequently emerges from what data they make it possible to collect involve elements of choice and there is much cross-cultural variation. But the structures do not set the terms of their birth environments, nor (at least initially) of the raw material they deal with. What Karl Marx (1994) said of history might be paraphrased to apply to information control, ‘humans make their own information control policies and technologies, however, they do not make them as they please, but under circumstances already given in the world both natural and cultural’. While I am not suggesting an ‘essentialist’ or unduly deterministic position, elements of the initial accessibility and assessments of what kind of material is present (what I refer to as its properties) need to be considered. In spite of the heights of human inventiveness, neither the tools of data collection nor culture are fully determinative in the face of the prior conditions existing in the empirical/physical/material world. These conditions, in conjunction with the unaided senses, result in the material that may become data and can have an effect in how the data will be defined. 9.

These initial properties help structure a central dynamic, as humans struggle over how they should be viewed, and seek to alter the conditions (whether this concerns efforts of the holders of information to make it more or less accessible, or of potential discoverers or recipients of information, to obtain or avoid obtaining it.) 10. The way information is treated (both re how it is labeled and in actors’ subsequent behavior) must be viewed as a game with players (roles), resources (rules, material tools, strategies and tactics), moves and a variety of serious goals beyond fun. 11. My point is hardly to deny that vital, emergent dynamic, but to call for mindfulness because some elements on the game board transcend culture and politics.

As suggested, in the beginning there are some ‘natural’ limits and ‘facilitants’ to the use of information. I use the word natural with some trepidation and simply mean the state prior to intentional alteration or supplement. While numerous attributes can be identified, in this section I am particularly interested in whether in some raw or initial state the material is relatively accessible or inaccessible with respect to various components to be discussed. I use the term access here to name a broad variable that goes from inaccessible to accessible with various points between and a number of subtypes within. The access properties question complements a long-standing interest in the empirical and ethical aspects of information discovery. Accessibility is a multi-dimensional construct. Below I identify some key components. The connections among these can be path dependent in either a natural or a logical sense; a blockage such as darkness is usually present before a tool or rule appears to overcome this and if it is not known that the raw material for data creation exists (the fact that there is a secret is itself a secret) then efforts to create/discover data are unlikely. But other components can come together in a variety of configurations such as whether or not a reproducible record can be made and whether or not results can be, and actually are, accessed and used. This empirical richness and indeterminacy are at the core of the topic and what makes it so challenging. Hereunder I sum up 7 key components of accessibility:

Accessibility lies in the relationship between data and whoever may access the data, depending on the context, the technological mediation used to access the data, and the cultural mediations that constrain or enable access.

    Is the would be data gatherer/user aware that material for data/information exists in a given case, or in general? The fact that data or the potential to create it exists is often not known. In many settings there is so much hay and there are so few needles that, unless the interested agent is prescient or lucky, or an accident or whistle blower reveals the data’s existence, it will be unlikely to be known. Requirements for notice and informed consent are ‘awareness’ elements. But mere awareness that data exists is distinct from the other components.

    Can the actor access the content of data? ‘Can’ may refer to the initial condition of the data, apart from rules permitting, limiting or prohibiting access. Are the data initially or potentially available, whether as a result of their natural state or rules and technology? For example humans can’t see in the dark even if no rule prohibits it, without s a techno-boost, human can stand outside a door and eavesdrop even if they shouldn’t. 12. However, to be aware of the datum and even to ‘have’ it as in being able to see, read or hear it, of course need not mean comprehending it. 13.

    Even where access is not naturally or rule restricted, can the actor make sense of it? Data may be universally available to anyone with normal senses in the data flow and may or may not be comprehensible because of some limitation on the part of a potential recipient or some form of border or other restriction. An example of the former on the part of the receptor would be blindness or not understanding the language of a communication. Encryption, a subscription service or eligibility requirements illustrate the latter.

    Is the data in such a form or can a record (whether as a right or at least a possibility) be made of the transaction or behavior in question such that it is reviewable by those it pertains to and/or to others? If so, is what is reviewable an original, a copy or a facsimile and how well does the data lend itself to record creation?

    Reproduction can be a strategic resource with the possibility of endless re-use and exchange, it can offer evidence and a standard by which rival claims can be judged and the record can be used for influence and even blackmail. Signs prohibiting photography in museums or recording concerts or films fit here, as would rules requiring that police record interrogations.

    Can the information be legitimately communicated to others (or selected others)? This involves the ability to provide the information, apart from the form the communication may take. Secrecy policies, particularly in national security, law enforcement, business and personnel matters (e.g., confidentiality and privacy) can prohibit or limit sharing, or even forbid indicating that one has possession of certain information, apart from revealing its content. Depending on the form, reproduction may be permitted for limited purposes as with the fair use doctrine associated with copyright law or it may be prohibited under any circumstances. Amateur (ham) radio operators are a fascinating case here. In the United States for example, they can listen, but they can’t record or tell and they must have a renewable license. The borderless quality of the airwaves is conducive to rules across jurisdictions as with treaties. An interesting issue is whether the rules change if one gives the information away rather than sells, or otherwise personally profits from it. Definitions of personal property and materiality apply here.

    Does access to the data entail the right (or ability) to treat it as private personal property subject to distribution, alteration or destruction as the owner desires? To simply orally recount the words that were said or to draw a picture of something that happened may be treated differently than to more directly (literally?) capture it via a digital image or sound recording. A book or a newspaper comes with the expectation that the owner can do with it whatever she wishes (even as we recoil from book burning). A bound book contains two kinds of property –the cover, paper, ink and the less tangible ideas contained within it. Different rules may apply to the two types. Note how some software licensing restricts what the ‘owner’ can do with his or her property with respect to reverse engineering the source code or to combining it with other software, or, in the case of hardware, like a smartphone, contracting with other service providers. This also can get muddied with respect to historic buildings and even works of art, for instance raising the question of whether the current owner has an obligation to the community or to the artist to maintain the work in its original condition. 14.

  7. USAGE
    May the person (or group) with data access take actions based on the information (apart from how the data itself is treated). It is easier to think of prohibitions on acting than legally mandated examples of freedom to act, since that is the default state. But among the former consider laws against insider trading. You can know but you can’t do anything about it (even though as a practical matter one really could act and such violations are not uncommon, given the temptations and low visibility). The ban on card counting in gambling casinos is an interesting case with respect to the difficulty of enforcement, at least initially. The patent system (based on the Latin term patere—to lay open) nicely illustrates the uncoupling of access to information from the right to use it (while ironically making possible the potential to use it, unlike with trade secrets).
Some information (as hackers claim) wants to be free, like the commons: open for the grazing of speechmaking and comprehending to all members. Information can be a free good in the economist’s sense of the term in being available to all without conventional costs. It can be like a river that not only runs free, but is freely used by those who can get to it. However, free flowing data like a river can be dammed or polluted. In a politically, legally and socially stratified world with private property and our concern for the dignity of the person, access is often restricted, beyond the limits of the senses and cognition noted above.

If you are poor and have no livestock to graze on the commons, the freedom is empty, the same goes for the quip (from before the Internet): ‘yes, freedom of the press is a great thing, just ask the person who owns a printing press!’ 15. The opposite claim that information wants to be controlled is equally valid given the contemporary importance of secrecy and privacy and logistical limits of scale, dispersal and time. Perhaps it is better to take the middle ground and claim that information wants to (or normatively at least should) be selective or discrete, seeking a flashing yellow, ‘it depends’ light.16.

It would be interesting to compare air and information as free goods. Air as a free good is of course made up of various industrial and other pollutants. Access to information can bring a variety of costs beyond the need to pay money for it, for instance, an unwanted obligation to report, information overload and the destruction of functional illusions. Information shows varying degrees of intention and artifice, contrast a given such as height or mathematics with propaganda. In human environments air is often far from ‘natural’, think of the air in front of a bakery or restaurant altered by fans spreading inviting smells; work environments that may pump in jasmine as a calming means; casinos that pump in oxygen to keep people awake. Contrary to the sign in Jimmy Joe’s restaurant at the beginning of this paper, one must pay for aroma therapy and perfumes and in some gas stations for tire air. In some places, such as Berkeley in California, wearing perfume at public meetings is frowned upon in order to protect the allergic.

There appears to be a tilt toward viewing the natural as ethically superior to the constructed. That certainly applies with respect to using the unaided senses to obtain information, as we tend to trust what is perceived with our own sense better than what is mediated or given second hand from others. In the United States this involves the assumption of the muddled concept of a reasonable expectation of privacy. It is deemed that one cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy when the personal information is readily available (whether in its natural state or because a veil is lifted or not lowered by the actor).

Descriptive and Analytic Aspects of Data Involving Persons
Thus far our concern has been with aspects of the accessibility of data with a particular interest in the implications of the initial presence or absence of physical barriers to data access. I argue that this is one factor conditioning how data are initially viewed that offers an axis around which to think about the kinds of rules and tools that attach to data under varied conditions of accessibility. But in itself, this tells us relatively little about the cultural content of data and how they are evaluated. For that we need a system to organize the cultural attributes of the data. I offer two kinds of concepts, descriptive and analytic. I will focus on the important category of information attachable to individuals and identify several kinds of descriptive (substantive) information with respect to 10 questions (these vary from the ‘who is it?’ to ‘when’ and ‘where’), see Table 2. Table 3 deals with the analytic properties of the information. Table 4 offers way to organize the presence of absence of a border as this bears upon whether information is personal or impersonal.

Table 2: Types of Descriptive Information Connectable to Individuals

1. Individual [the who question]



Legal name


Biometric (natural, environmental)


Aliases, nicknames




2.  Shared [the typification-profiling question]









DNA (most)

General physical characteristics (gender, blood type, height, skin and hair color) and appearance

Health status

Organizational memberships

Folk characterizations by reputation –liar, cheat, brave, strong, weak, addictive personality



4. Geographical/Locational  [the where, where from/where to and beyond geography, how to reach question]


A.  Fixed



Residence, residence history

Telephone number (land line)

Mail address

Cable TV


B.  Mobile



Email address

Cell phone

Vehicle and personal locators

Wireless computing


Travel records




5.  Temporal [the when question]


Date and time of activity




3.  Networks and relationships [the who else question]


Family members, married or divorced

Others the individual interacts/communicates with, roommates,  friends,  associates, others co-present (contiguous)

     at a given location (including in cyberspace) or activity including neighbors




6.  Objects [the which one and whose is it question]





Communications device


Land, buildings and businesses



7.  Behavioral [the what happened/is happening question]



A. Communication



Fact of using a given means (computer, phone, cable TV, diary, notes or library) to create, send, or receive information (mail covers, subscription lists, pen registers, email headers, cell phone, GPS)

Content of that communication


B. Economic behavior—-buying (including consumption patterns and preferences), selling, bank, credit card transactions


C. Work monitoring


D.  Employment history


E. Norm and conflict related behavior—-bankruptcies, tax liens, small claims and civil judgments, criminal

records, suits filed



8.  Beliefs, attitudes, emotions [the inner or backstage, presumably ‘real’  person question]



9. Measurement Characterizations (past, present, predictions, potentials [the kind of person, predict your future question]


Opinions of others, reputation

Credit ratings and limits

Insurance ratings

SAT and college acceptability scores

Intelligence tests

Civil service scores

Drug tests

Truth telling (honesty tests, lie detection –verbal and non-verbal))

Psychological inventories, tests and profiles 

Occupational placement and performance tests

Medical (HIV, genetic, cholesterol etc.)



10. Media references (yearbooks, newsletters, newspapers, tv, internet)


 [the what was said about the person question]





Table 3: Dimensions of Individual Information 



No (private)

Yes (public)

2. Personal



No (Impersonal)

3. Intimate




4. Sensitive




5. Unique Identification


Yes (distinctive but shared)

No (anonymous)




6. Locatable




7. Stigmatizable (reflection on character of subject)




8. Prestige enhancing




9. Reveals deception (on part of subject)




10. Strategic disadvantage to subject




11  Multiple kinds of data (extensive and intensive)




12. Documentary (re-usable) record


Yes [permanent?] record


13. Attached to or part of person




14. Biometric




15. ‘Naturalistic’ (reflects reality in obvious way, prima face validity)


No (artifactual)


16.  Information is predictive rather than reflecting empirically documentable past and present




17.  Enduring Shelf life



No (transitory)

18.  Alterable





 Individual alone or radiates to others




  Yes (e.g., olfaction)

 Radiate (e.g., communication taps)


  Table 4: The Person and Information Types



Accessibility (as in easily available)






to individual




scent, DNA,

facial image, voice, gait


Religious beliefs,  sexual preference, health status



      height, native language,            right-handed

D. blood-type,

car mileage

Means of Information Protection, Discovery and Communication: Blocked and Unblocked
Apart from the classification of types of access and of kinds of data, we need to consider how individuals evaluate the data settings they encounter. Those in possession of information and those seeking to obtain it, those with information who wish to communicate it and those without it who do not want the communication are on the same dance floor, even as the steps are often different. The dance may be solitary, conflictual or cooperative. A variety of tools and counter-tools can be noted that gain access or guard against it, that communicate or avoid communication. This is a dynamic game with moves and counter-moves.

Efforts to tighten or loosen the collection and flow of data may involve positive and negative incentives such as financial and other rewards or legal penalties (fines, torts), regulatory devices such as licenses, copyrights and patents and material artifacts (tools that extend the senses or garble the data) and strategies such as coercion, threat, persuasion and subterfuge. Much energy and invention go into developing impermeable or permeable borders and various points in between, in an effort to hide what would otherwise be in plain sight or easy to discover, or to reveal what is not, depending on the role played. Regarding revelation, consider infra-red technology that enables night vision; x-rays that ‘see’ through barriers such as clothes, skin and luggage; cutting trees and foliage to increase visibility; designing buildings for defensible space; merging data widely dispersed in time, place and form; and even having a lip reader with binoculars intercept communication too far away to be overheard, whether for law enforcement or in sports. 17. A bank's prohibition of wearing sunglasses, hats and masks also fits here, as do prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons, requirements for see-through school backpacks and uniforms without pockets and standards for how technologies are to be made. 18. In other cases the easy availability of information may create incentives for protecting it, involving rules, tools and tricks to that end. High walls, encryption for communication, and masks, plastic surgery, elevator shoes, and false IDs for individuals are examples of protecting what otherwise could be seen. Interesting examples of blocking what would otherwise be available include witness protection programs or testifying behind a screen and having voices altered or having an audition for a symphony orchestra behind a screen hiding their appearance in order to work against discrimination based on gender or race. Even when the environment provides information or an opportunity to express it, self-control, manners, concern over reciprocity and a sense of honor or an oath may result in forgone opportunities to observe or share information in the absence of laws, for instance averting the eyes not to embarrass others, speaking softly in public, or suppressing a cough during a performance, not gossiping.

So What?
The distinctions noted above and the tables and figures are one thing, explanations and policy arguments are another. The next step, after making conceptual distinctions, is to seek their correlates and consequences and to suggest hypotheses. In the context of this chapter, I will not go further than to briefly illustrate the kind of speculation or theory that is desirable. I will do this with respect to Table 3, which lists accessibility and a variety of other properties of information that can be used to characterize persons and their data. 19. Attitudes towards the appropriateness of data availability are related to these characteristics. To the extent that the values involved on the left side of Table 3 are present (other factors being equal), greater protections are likely. 20. Conversely, to the extent that the values on the right side of Table 3 are present, there will be fewer or no restrictions. The variables in Table 3 can be combined in a variety of ways and show some patterns, for example, that stigmatizing information is more likely to be private, and anonymous information to be public. 21. The variables might also be ranked relative to each other; that is, the potential for a negative critique regarding information collection seems much greater for some items (for instance, if it discredits or diminishes a person, as with items number 7-10) than for others (for instance, where the information is from multiple or single sources). But for now, let us simply note that the variables have an additive effect, and the more (both in terms of the greater the number and the greater the degree) the values on the left side of the table are present, the more likely it is that the data about an individual will be deemed worthy of being protected.

Specific judgments about access to data on individuals of course will depend on the context and when, where and what is involved. The intensity of a negative judgment is likely to be greater to the extent that a uniquely identified and locatable person is involved and when information is personal, private, intimate, sensitive, stigmatizing, strategically valuable, extensive, biological, artifactual, predictive, 22. reveals deception, 23. is attached to the person, and involves an enduring and unalterable documentary record. These variables may have contradictory impacts and the values in the preceding sentence can vary independently of each other. Moreover, under some conditions, those attributes may support favorable assessments, and it is their absence that will be associated with criticism, even when means and ends are appropriate. Thus, being unable to identify and locate a subject can be a sign of failure and wasted resources. The lack of extensive data may mean less confidence in results. The collection and availability of naturalistic forms of information about persons may be seen as too invasive. 24. But whether or not the kind of data collected leads to positive or negative judgments, the important point is that each kind can play an independent role in how surveillance is judged.

It is one thing to predict characteristics likely to be associated with attitudes toward personal information practices. Proof and explanation are a different matter. The assertions above drawn from Table 3 are hypotheses to be empirically assessed. If this patterning of indignation (or conversely acceptance) is found to be correct, what might account for it? Does a common thread or threads traverse the judgments that are reached? I believe the answer is yes, as follows. Tools with an invasive potential that break the natural borders protecting private information maintain a taint, no matter how lofty the goal. In the absence of appropriate regulation, they are likely to be negatively viewed. For information that is not naturally known, norms tend to protect against revealing information that reflects negatively on a person’s moral status and legitimate strategic concerns (for instance, safety or unreasonable discrimination in employment, banking, or insurance). The policy debate is about when it is legitimate to reveal and conceal (for instance, criminal records after a sentence has been served, unpopular or risky but legal lifestyles, contraceptive decisions for teenagers, genetic data given to employers or insurers, or credit card data passed to third parties). It is also about the extent to which the information put forth may be authenticated, often with the ironic additional crossing of personal borders to gather still more personal information.

The greater the distance between the data in some presumed original or initial form and their ‘artifactuality’ as conditioned by a measurement device, the stronger is the need to explain how the tool works and to validate non-self-evident claims.25. Contrast a claim about deception based on a polygraph exam with a videotape of a shoplifter. The seeming realism and directness of visual and audio data make them easier to understand and believe than more disembodied data appearing from unseen and generally poorly understood tests and measurements. 26.Another factor affecting indignation or acceptance can be the extent to which the information is unique, characterizing only one locatable person or a small number of persons. This is one version of the idea of ‘safety in numbers’, apart from the potentially negative aspects of anonymity. 27.

It is a truism to note that rules are related to motivations and literal possibilities to behave in ways that the rules seek to control. Yet rules also show some realism in not trying very hard to regulate things that are almost impossible to regulate. Note the hollowness of a judge telling a jury to ignore something it has just seen and heard (a frequent feature of the U.S. Perry Mason television series). In our culture there are fewer rules about information gained through overt, direct (non-technologically aided) hearing and seeing, although if present they are more likely to involve rules about recording, sharing, or using such data rather than controlling the initial access. Rules, manners and even softer expectations that culture provides are means of control. Consider deference rules such as not looking the ruler in the eye or messages such as:

This information is being released upon receipt of a valid written authorization or as otherwise prescribed by law. The information contained in this document is CONFIDENTIAL and may also be LEGALLY protected. Further disclosure by the recipient without additional written authorization may be in violation of several federal regulations. If you are not legally entitled to read this document, stop reading at once.
Of course unenforceable laws (such as those against suicide) have a symbolic and educational role indicating what the ideal is from a standpoint of those making the laws, apart from the likelihood of successful implementation. Ideals matter but so does the rational allocation of scarce social resources where needs are always greater than what is available. In that regard a Washington State anti-anonymity (pro-access to identification information) law requires written political advertising to clearly identify ‘the sponsor’s name and address’ exempts ‘sky-writing, inscriptions’, and other forms of advertising ‘where identification is impractical’. 28. Ignoring this view, there also are anti-graffiti statutes that hardly put a stop to the phenomenon, it seems far better to build with graffiti resistant materials as on some subways.

Further Questions
With this initial effort I have considered some aspects of how the properties of information may affect subsequent offensive and defensive patterns of behavior on the part of groups with conflicting interests and goals. I will end with some related questions.

I have focused on an actor either desiring to protect or to access forms of information in various ways. In particular, I have been interested in the conflict where the implicit goal of one party is to keep or limit access by the possessor from the information-deprived whose goal is to obtain the information. This broad category includes citizens wanting to protect the privacy of their Internet searches, communication and purchases, as well as corporations and governments wanting to learn about each other and citizens but not to share their ‘own’ information (or better to carefully control and benefit from any release of that information), irrespective of whether they collect the information externally or within their internal operations.

The directionality of information flows is a related and neglected factor that also needs consideration. In the privacy realm for example, most attention is on the questionable taking of information from the person. But consider the contrasting case that was given only brief consideration, namely that of impositions upon the person, whether unwanted written messages, sound, images or smells. 29. In such cases the possessor of information seeks to deliver it, as with mail, TV and phone adds, spam, and loud cell phone (or even regular conversations in an enclosed space such as a restaurant or train), or public black lists intended to stigmatize, damage reputations and otherwise restrict the labeled party. What are the means and processes present when the access or communication that an individual or an organization provides, is unwanted by the potential recipient and/or is socially harmful (a nice contrast to settings where information is desired but protected by its possessor)? What means are used to avoid access, collecting and knowing or at least experiencing? 30. Are the means of blocking or otherwise neutralizing communication inward, that is toward an eager receptor, the same as blocking data flows outward, that is toward a potential recipient who does not want to receive the communication at all? A full analysis would integrate this into the more common struggles over access sought and denied rather than access unwanted and rejected. Consideration also needs to be given to the cooperative or symmetrical cases where the goals of givers and receivers can be shared or at least mesh (for instance, in many professional settings of care, between buyers and sellers and to a degree between workers and employers). Another aspect of the direction question I have been concerned with is under what conditions do individuals feel that a personal information border has been wrongly crossed, or that there has been a failure in not crossing a border re the collection of information? The latter is particularly interesting and neglected, but see Etzioni (1999) and Allen (2003). There is an imbalance in studies of privacy invasion as against the paucity of studies of the failure to discover or publicize information when that is appropriate.

As noted, one variable condition regarding rules about information is whether it involves an identifiable individual and the nature of that identification and another is the kind of information (Tables 2, 3). But apart from substance, the form the data appears in, or is gathered or presented in, needs consideration. Control and perception are related to whether data initially are in visual, auditory, olfactory, numerical, or narrative form, conditioning the kind of rule and tool used in collection and to a lesser degree reproduction, analysis and communication. 31.

People may know things about themselves that others do not, and the contours of the rules about whether or not they can or must inform others needs to be understood, as do equivalent questions for organizations. Apart from whether the information involves an identifiable person, the question of whether some form of permit or permission is required is important and becomes even more complicated when transactional data is involved and/or the data involves multiple persons, some of whom may agree while others do not (a group photo posted on social media). Just ‘whose’ data is it? What about third parties that are not even involved in the interaction but happen to be within the data flow? What of subjects deemed incompetent or unable to grant required permission?

Control of the subject's information may reside with authorized intermediaries. That is the case when a person's cooperation or permission is needed for access to information about another, for instance, a minor, a trustee, in case of the exhumation of a relative's grave, or the releasing of papers of the deceased. Second-party reporting for birth and death records fits here. In neither case is the subject of the information responsible for reporting. Questions related to the issue of whose data is at stake, can be those that involve issues of scale or scope and whether the information is about a single individual or many others. Is it the case that the wider the circle of intimate contacts involved, the more likely it will be that restrictions are present? As an example, contrast the lesser standard for searching an individual person than for a wiretap warrant that involves repetitive monitoring (at least initially) of communication with hundreds of persons in the subject’s circle. 32. Over time, greater restrictions seem likely to appear where there is a tar brush effect, that is, where data collection on one person leads inevitably to include many others who may not be proper subjects for personal border crossing. Beyond information picked up from family member’s innocuous calls if a phone is tapped, consider how DNA reveals some information about families as well as the initial subject.

Value Conflicts Endure
Interdisciplinary exchanges as in this volume, are vital to bring a little light to issues that can be clouded and tilted by power (whether resting on tradition or unequal resources). The field of information technology with respect to social implications and trends suffers from an abundance of sweeping generalizations and a surfeit of conceptual definition, nuance, and evidence for claims and a clear justification for the values underlying a position.

With respect to where society is headed and its moral evaluation, current technologies are too often thought to be harbingers of either a new utopia or the old nightmares of Kafka, Huxley and Orwell. They are seen to involve qualitative, even revolutionary changes or simply minor shifts in enduring aspects of human society and personality. Freedom and privacy are far from dead, although they might be catching their breath. From some vistas things can be seen to be getting better, and from others getting worse. The ironies, paradoxes, trade-offs and value conflicts which limit the best laid plans must be observed and analyzed , even if not always welcomed. I will end with another list, enumerating some common value conflicts. Given their enduring presence, even with an abundance of good discussion, good will, intelligence and competence these issues will - and should remain at least somewhat - contentious. Given the inherent value conflicts we must face the fact that someone’s ox is always going to be gored and all solutions come with costs. Some of the relevant value and goal conflicts are:

  • Liberty and order

  • Communalism and individualism

  • Aggregate (often statistical) rationality and efficiency against due process, justice, and fairness for each case

  • Universalism (equality) vs. particularism (differentiation)

  • Information control as repression/domination/colonization/homogenization or as responsible management/oversight/care/guidance

  • The desire to be noticed and the desire to be left alone

  • Prevention vs. response after the fact

  • Deterrence vs. apprehension

  • Information as a human rights issue or as a variable contextual, local conditions issue (e.g., privacy 33.)

  • Publicity/visibility and transparency as needed for accountability but also be deterrents to creativity, experimentation, civility and diplomacy

  • Control of personal information (privacy) as central to selfhood, intimacy and group borders but also to suspicion and hiding dishonesty, violations, conspiracies

  • Freedom of expression as necessary for various kinds of truth but also as protective of defamation/harassment/slander/irresponsible and mendacious speech, unwanted encroachments on person
Conclusions: Questions and Answers
I would never be one to disrespect the Talmudic wisdom which asks, “why spoil a good question with an answer?” Far easier to state the question(s) and suggests concepts and methods that can point toward answers, even if the latter will often be opaque, fragmented, contradictory and paradoxical. So I will just summarize an approach to some answers.

The goal of this chapter has been to develop a more systematic sociology of information that can contribute to understanding the broad social contexts within which information is controlled (whether by being available or by being restricted). Of 8 key elements noted here I emphasize the social structural aspects such as types of role played and the characteristics of the data as these are related to the way data is defined and treated. Types of social setting and other variables impacting the social control of information are identified. Among these are settings in which there are both cultural and physical borders to information, neither, or one or the other.

A cross cutting theme involves the key variables around data’s initial accessibility and how rules and hard and software tools impact this. Accessibility is to be found in the connections between the basic data, the kind of setting, those who may access it and the technological and cultural mediations that constrain or enable access. Seven basic components of accessibility are identified: awareness, collection, understanding, records, sharing, private property and usage.

The cultural meaning of the personal data that is subject to control can be approached via its descriptive or its analytic aspects. Understanding these is central to the kinds of rules and tools found with information control and controversies over privacy, surveillance, confidentiality and secrecy.

With respect to the descriptive aspects ten forms were identified: individual [the who question]; shared [the typification-profiling question]; temporal [the when question]; networks and relationships [the who else question]; objects [the which one and whose is it question]; objects [the which one and whose is it question]; behavioral [the what happened/is happening question]; behavioral [the what happened/is happening question]; beliefs, attitudes, emotions [the inner or backstage, presumably ‘real’ person question]; measurement characterizations (past, present, predictions, potentials [the kind of person, predict your future question]; media references (the what was said about the person question)

With respect to the analytic dimensions 19 forms are suggested: accessible; personal; intimate; sensitive; unique identification; locatable; stigmatizable; prestige enhancing; reveals deception or strategic disadvantage to subject; multiple kinds of data; re-usable record; attached to person; biometric; naturalistic; predictive; shelf life; alterable; alone or radiates. It is one thing to predict characteristics likely to be associated with attitudes toward personal information practices. Proof and explanation are a different matter. Based on these distinctions, a number of hypotheses to be empirically assessed are suggested.

Four types of information setting are identified based on combining the public-private accessibility and personal-impersonal dimensions. The discussion above offers the empirical material out of which explanatory and normative views are or could be based. But even with clear empirical evidence interpretation is another matter. I noted that assessing the meaning of data was made more difficult by conflicts in values. A number of such conflicts were noted such as between liberty and order. Many disagreements involve conflicts between competing goods rather than a simple struggle between good and evil. The paper concludes with additional questions that the concepts offered in the paper suggest.

Table 1  |  Table 2  |  Table 3  |  Table 4  |  Notes  |  Top

Allen, Anita L. 2003. Why privacy isn’t everything: Feminist reflections on personal accountability. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.

Andreas, P. and Nadelmann, E. 2006. Policing the Globe. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Darlely, J. and Latane, B. 1968. “Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 8(4): 377-383

Etzioni, A. 1999. The Limits of Privacy. New York: Basic Books

Gitelman, Lisa (ed.) 2013 ‘Raw Data’ Is an Oxymoron. Cambridge MA - London, England: MIT Press.

Goffman, E. 1956. The Presentation of Self in Everday Life. New York: Doubleday.

  • 1969. Strategic Interaction. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969.
Heilemann, J. and Halperin, M. 2010. Game Change. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Katz, Jack. 2004. "On the Rhetoric and Politics of Ethnographic Methodology." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social science 595, no. 1: 280-308.

Marx, G.T. 2015a. Windows into the Soul: Surveillance and Society in an Age of High Technology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  • 2015b. "Technology and Social Control: The Search for the Illusive Silver Bullet Continues." In Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2nd Edition.

  • 2015c. “Coming to Terms: The Kladescope of Privacy and Surveillance.” in Beate Roessler and Dorota Mokrosinska (eds.) Social Dimensions of Privacy: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

  • 2011. "Turtles, Firewalls, Scarlet Letters and Vacuum Cleaners: Rules about Personal Information." In William Aspray and Philip Doty (eds.) Privacy in America: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, 271-294. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

  • 2004. “Murky Conceptual Waters: The Public and the Private.” Ethics and Informational Technology 3, no. 3: 157-169.

  • 2005. "Some Conceptual Issues in the Study of Borders and Surveillance." In Elia Zureik and Mark B. Salter (eds.) Who and What Goes There? Global Policing and Surveillance, 11-35. Devon, UK: Willan Publishing.

  • 1988. Undercover: Police Surveillance in America. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press.

  • 1984. “Notes on the discovery, collection, and assessment of hidden and dirty data." In Joseph Schneider and John I. Kitsuse (eds.) Studies in the Sociology of Social Problems, 78-113. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.
Marx, Gary T., and Glenn W. Muschert. "Personal Information, Borders, and the New Surveillance Studies." Annual Review of Law and Social Science 3 (2007): 375-395.

Marx, K. 1994. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. International Publishers.

Mitchell, R.W. and Thompson, N. 1986. Deception, Perspectives on Human and Nonhuman Deceit. SUNY Press.

Nissenbaum, H. F. 1998. ”Protecting Privacy in an Information Age." Law and Philosophy

  • 2010. In Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001
Pamuk, O. 2007. “My First Passport.” The New Yorker, April 16. Prager, J. 2006. The Echoing Green. New York: Pantheon Books.

Robinson, W.S. 1951. "The logical structure of analytic induction." American Sociological Review, Vol 16, no 6, pgs 812-818.

Schelling, T.C. 1960. The strategy of conflict. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.

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  1. For animals there are functional (if not necessarily cognitive) equivalents of trade secrets and related forms in their use of secrecy and deception. Mitchell and Thompson (1986).

  2. For convenience I will use the terms information and data interchangeably. Of course for some purposes it is useful to note the progression from data to information to purported knowledge and then even to kinds of validity and truth. The time period, context, goals of conceptualization and skill of the agent will condition what the ‘stuff’ is called.

  3. This depends on the tool however—in the US, even in a ‘public’ public park using a parabolic mike to make a recording is likely illegal (even for law enforcement absent a warrant), but should the mere possession of it also be illegal? Can such a tool cleanly differentiate sound from public as against legally protected ‘private’ places (that also are of course public in one sense) (Nissenbaum 1997, Marx 2001) and what of the private person’s data easily accessible in public places, for instance because it broadcasts to anyone with the proper receptor; what aspect should be protected and realistically, what aspect can be protected? The reverse question is equally important and slighted: by what standards should relatively inaccessible personal information (whether because it is in a private place or because of its low visibility properties) be revealed? Consider, for example, spousal and child abuse within the home or a person with a contagious disease with no external indicators.

  4. A small phone jammer that can block cell phone transmissions within a 30 foot radius is for sale, see Consider also the delicious irony in Amazon’s zapping copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from its Kindle after customers had purchased them. (N.Y.T. July 17, 2009). The fact that the purchaser’s electronic location and ownership are personal information apparently did not transcend the company’s belief in its ownership rights.

  5. With respect to this last consider the justification of a widely circulated email intended to protect privacy on social media through evoking the United States Uniform Commercial Code, (UCC 1-103 1-308) which is, however, irrelevant in this case: WARNING: Any person and/or institution and/or Agent and/or Agency of any governmental, public or private structure including but not limited to the United States Federal Government also using or monitoring/using this website or any of its associated websites, you do NOT have my permission to utilize any of my profile information or any of the content contained herein including, but not limited photos, and/ or the comments made about my photos or any other "picture" art posted on my profile. You are hereby notified that you are strictly prohibited from disclosing, copying, distributing, disseminating, or taking any other action against me with regard to this profile and the contents herein. The foregoing prohibitions also apply to your employee(s), agent(s), student(s), or any personnel under your direction or control. The contents of this profile are private and legally privileged and confidential information, and the violation of my personal privacy is punishable by law. See

  6. Marx 2015b deals with broader efforts to engineer social control.

  7. A nice example of this interaction concerns the violations of confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements as seen in an apparent increase in tell-all books such as Game Change (Heilemann and Halperin 2010). According to one account ‘discretion is on the wane and disclosures on the rise’ as a result of new markets created by Internet communication (New York Times, Jan. 17, 2010). The formal rules may be buttressed by and reflective of the culture as well as undermined by it, with a little help from technology.

  8. One form is the ‘dirty data’ of organizations, that is, hidden discrediting information that usually stays secret. But not always; such information may be revealed as a result of means such as legal requirements, experiments, whistle blowers, accidents, trace elements, undercover police and new surveillance technologies (Marx 1984, 1988).

    There are also ‘clean data’ of low visibility, even on the part of those individuals with nothing to hide. Much day-to-day activity occurs here, such as using the bathroom or the routine processing of bureaucratic requests such as for a building permit. The initial unavailability of such data to wider audiences is more likely to reflect logistics, not secrecy and cover-ups.

  9. Of course as Lisa Gitelman (2013) and her colleagues nicely demonstrate there is no such thing as raw data. Of course, that does not mean that any imaginable construction can be sustained indefinitely in the face of some push back from what is out there, before human constructions are applied. Indeed a key question is what within our sense of the world is culturally variable (and even then what is the range of that variability) and what is more universal across cultures and time periods. The stuff out of which meaning is made has some obdurate and determining qualities. But wending one’s way through those mirages, sand traps and landmines is eternally challenging.

  10. Framing the issue in this way makes it possible to note the parallels between organizations concerned with secrecy or limiting the flow of information and individuals concerned with protecting their privacy. However, the former is better thought of as organizational secrets or intellectual property rather than as privacy.

  11. Classic statements here are by Schelling (1960) and Goffman (1969) but my emphasis in this paper is on the conditions which the players encounter at the start of the games.

  12. An additional factor is what people choose to do given the situation they face, thus the question is: are the rules honored, are technologies used to overcome or create data access blockages?

  13. Whether actors take advantage of the data’s availability or honor rules and protective technologies intended to protect it, is yet another issue.

  14. Although they entail data taken in by the senses, art or the façade of a building are not information in the sense used here, but there they offer material to which meaning may be assigned.

  15. The Internet, while evening things up a bit, generally still requires significant resources in order to continuously release information that garners attention and to cull the vast amount that is continually available.

  16. Contradiction, paradox, irony and conflict are pronounced and a lot depends on how the kaleidoscope is turned. Note that businesses generally want to rein in information by commodifying it, while privacy advocates also seek to limit it but for other reasons, civil liberties advocates stress the role of freedom of information and freedom of speech in unleashing it. But the transparency and visibility which can be good for democracy may not be good for the dignity of the too naked person. Dysfunctions and inefficiencies are likely greatest at the extreme ends of the continua.

  17. Consider the famous (infamous?) case of the 1951 play off game between the N.Y. Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers in which the home run hitting batter (Bobby Thomson) apparently learned what pitch to expect based on radioed communication from a coach with binoculars in the bleachers, who read the catcher's signal to the pitcher. (Prager 2008).

  18. The 1994 Digital Telephony Act also known as CALEA (103-414, 108 Stat. 4279, codified at 47 USC 1001-1010) for example, required that digital communication devices be built to permit eavesdropping. More recently there has been an effort to create new legislation that would require Internet companies that provide communication such as Gmail, Facebook, Blackberry and Skype to be technically capable of quickly complying with a wiretap order (New York Times, Oct. 23, 2010).

  19. The discussion of Table 3 draws from Marx, 2015A.

  20. There is an obvious need to study cultural variation, not only within national subcultures, but across societies as well. In China, to judge from the questions I was asked when I taught there, it is appropriate and perhaps even a sign of respect to ask how old a person is, and there seems no inhibition on asking a stranger how much money he earns. In Europe, it is much less common than it is in the U.S. to ask those one has just met about their family status such as married, divorced, or if they have children. The information that is required or prohibited from An employment curriculum vitae offers another striking contrast with Europe. A nice comparative study could be (and most likely has been) done in the vein of Miss Manners-type books across cultures and the emergence of global commonalities within subcultures such as business, diplomacy, and entertainment.

  21. The table can also be used to explore the patterning of rules about information with respect to revelation, discretion and withholding.

  22. Claims about the past are at least subject to an empirical standard, however musty the memories and degraded the material artifacts. Past failings may also be more excusable than those predicted for the future (for instance, ‘she has learned her lesson’, ‘he has grown up’, or ‘that mistake was paid for’). Disagreements about an individual’s future are more speculative. In professional contexts, this often involves the claims of rival experts representing different interests under a mantle of neutrality and scientific expertise.

  23. Here it is not only that the content offered by the subject is erroneous, but that the person is revealed to be dishonest.

  24. The logic here is that the unwarranted taking of information in actually reflecting the person, would be seen as worse than an abstract category applied by others for which the individual can say as did novelist Orhan Pamuk (2007) about the data presented in his first passport: ‘that’s not me’. However, one could as well argue the opposite. The latter in being artificial and less realistic, or at least less self-evident, while still claiming to represent the person, is worse than the seemingly more real ‘natural’ information. A relevant factor, of course, is whether the characterization supports or undermines the individual’s interests or persona. This is an aspect of backstage behavior. The individual’s sense of a unique self is partly found in the less than perfect fit between cultural expectations and the situation (regarding both attitudes and behavior). Goffman’s (1959) concept of role distance and his idea of distinctive identity lying partly in the cracks of the roles played, fit here.

  25. As noted earlier at the most abstract level the imposition of language and meaning on what we perceive means that everything is in a sense an artifact of the interventions of the observer. Yet a central point of this chapter is to argue that the stuff with which cognition and manipulation work has some implications for the work that they do.

  26. Of course, appropriate skepticism is needed precisely because this tilt toward such data creates rich opportunities for deception. The Chinese expression, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ must be tempered with attentiveness to whether and when, ‘seeing is believing’ or ‘believing is seeing’ or when they should be disconnected. The same holds for not questioning the assumption that using numbers to convert disembodied raw data is necessarily more objective and reliable than the interpretive work of humans, granted that humans may discriminate and cover their mistakes and rule-violations.

  27. Beyond lack of accountability, there also can be a lessened likelihood of bystander intervention as anonymity increases (Darely and Latane 1968).

  28. See at Of course as with neutralization it is easy to imagine ways of blocking skywriting, such as with another plane distorting what the first wrote, but then the self-destructive quality of sky writing would make that impractical as well, let alone the other risks it would bring.

  29. These of course can be joined as with Orwell's telescreen, note the monitoring of internet behavior leading to marketing solicitations.

  30. Of course whether smell and touch are information or convey information can be debated and for many purposes differ from communication involving words. Yet smell can communicate meaning (of a fire) and touch served the blind persons (if badly) in identifying different parts of an elephant in the Indian fable.

  31. Note conversion to numerical or chart form or the blocking of faces in a visual image or distorting of voices.

  32. According to the Justice Department (Administrative Office 20__), in 20__ the average wiretap resulted in over 100 different persons and several thousands of phone calls being monitored.

  33. The issue of whether (and which) human rights are (or ought to be) universals as against the honoring of local traditions that contradict them is an enduring question.

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