Mass Surveillance: A Private Affair?

Kevin MacNish*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Mass surveillance is a more real threat now than at any time in history. Digital communications and automated systems allow for the collection and processing of private information at a scale never seen before. Many argue that mass surveillance entails a significant loss of privacy. Others dispute that there is a loss of privacy if the information is only encountered by automated systems. This paper argues that automated mass surveillance does not involve a significant loss of privacy. Through providing a definition of informational privacy as a matter of actual access of private information by one who can understand the meaning of that information, it follows that automated systems which lack understanding cannot of themselves diminish privacy. This is not to say that mass surveillance is unproblematic, though: It is deeply problematic. It is just that privacy is not the most significant of these problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-27
Number of pages19
JournalMoral Philosophy and Politics
Issue number1
Early online date11 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2020


  • Alexa
  • automation
  • Cambridge Analytica
  • Chinese room
  • data
  • Google
  • privacy
  • surveillance


Dive into the research topics of 'Mass Surveillance: A Private Affair?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this