An Ethical Duty to Protect One's Own Information Privacy?

23 Pages Posted: 9 Apr 2013 Last revised: 10 Jul 2013

See all articles by Anita L. Allen

Anita L. Allen

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: 2013


People freely disclose vast quantities of personal and personally identifiable information. The central question of this Meador Lecture in Morality is whether they have a moral (or ethical) obligation (or duty) to withhold information about themselves or otherwise to protect information about themselves from disclosure. Moreover, could protecting one’s own information privacy be called for by important moral virtues, as well as obligations or duties? Safeguarding others’ privacy is widely understood to be a responsibility of government, business, and individuals. The “virtue” of fairness and the “duty” or “obligation” of respect for persons arguably ground other-regarding responsibilities of confidentiality and data security. But is anyone ethically required — not just prudentially advised — to protect his or her own privacy? If so, how might a requirement to protect one’s own privacy and to display ethical virtues of reserve, modesty and temperance properly influence everyday choices, public policy, or the law? I test the idea of an ethical mandate to protect one’s own privacy, while identifying the practical and philosophical problems that bear adversely on the case. I consider “conceptual” and “libertarian” objections to the view that each individual indeed has a moral obligation to safeguard his or her own privacy. Government and industry are not off the hook if privacy is a duty of self-care and self-respect: they have responsibilities and are freshly viewed as partners in moral agents’ quest for ethical goodness.

Keywords: privacy, security, social media, Internet, online technology, Twitter, Facebook, ethics, moral duty, ethical obligation, information protection, governmental responsibilities, business and industry duties

Suggested Citation

Allen, Anita L., An Ethical Duty to Protect One's Own Information Privacy? (2013). Alabama Law Review, Vol. 64, P. 845, 2013, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 13-5, Available at SSRN:

Anita L. Allen (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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