Does privacy stand in the way of safety? In the wake of recent terror attacks, large tech firms like Facebook have been criticised for facilitating communication, radicalisation, and propaganda activities of terror groups online. In response, these companies have been keen to point out the measures they employ to make their services hostile environments for terrorists (such as artificial intelligence to identify objectionable content). Yet some of these measures have raised privacy concerns.

There’s a growing awareness about the value of personal information, with The Economist recently arguing that the world’s most valuable commodity is now no longer oil, but data. People seem happy to give up some of their privacy in order to pay for online services such as email, social media, and internet search tools. So, by that logic, people should be more than willing to sacrifice some privacy in order to help maintain security. Is it really so simple?

What do our readers think? We had a comment from Andrej, who believes that safety should always trump privacy concerns. But are there some assumptions baked into his comment? Are privacy and public security really in conflict with one another? And, if so, which is more important?

To get a response, we spoke to Dr. Mariarosaria Taddeo, Researcher Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute. Did she think there was a conflict between privacy and security?

[…] No, they are not in conflict. It is possible to guarantee security in such a way that privacy is not hindered or encroached on too much. Having said that, privacy is a fundamental right but it is not an absolute right. So, privacy is something that cannot be denied to people because people have the right to privacy as human beings, but it’s not a right that comes in a binary form. It comes in degrees. So, one of the ways in which we can overcome this tension between privacy and security is to understand how much privacy we want to forgo or give away for the sake of security.

Just to give you a practical example: I might be happy to give my date of birth when I check in my account over the phone to the operator because this facilitates the security practices on my bank account, so people who don’t know my bank account cannot access that information. I’m giving away a little bit of my privacy there for the sake of security, and this is fine. I’m not too happy for social media to collect data about my browsing habits or the websites I visit for surveillance purposes, however. What I’m trying to say is that privacy comes in degrees, and the friction between privacy and security is solved properly only when we control how much privacy we are giving away for the sake of security…

For another perspective, we put the same question to Dr. John Guelke, a research fellow at the University of Warwick whose research focuses on the ethics of surveillance. What would he say?

[…] I guess my main answer would be that a lot of public security policy is insufficiently respectful of privacy, and there are other issues going on there such as insufficient oversight of the way in which the policy has been carried out. Also, the kind of ways that privacy is being compromised [by governments] are ways that are quite common on the part of private businesses and are often treated as acceptable and not a cause for concern elsewhere. Now, there are good reasons for people to be more concerned about governments carrying out this kind of activity than private businesses, but the position is quite nuanced and often it’s presented as a much more stark position than I think is the case, as if privacy is being destroyed or given up wholesale when it’s rather an accumulation of small compromises across the board.

We also had a comment from Rui, who argues (though perhaps with tongue-in-cheek?) that if we have nothing to hide then we should not be worried about giving up our privacy. What would Dr. Mariarosaria Taddeo say?

This is a really bad argument, and a very dangerous one. It’s not about having something to hide. That’s a misconception. Privacy is a human right, and is a right that has been there to protect our dignity, not to protect our secrets. Imagine having someone looking at you while you are taking a shower, or when you’re flossing? It’s not about secrets, it’s your private moment and it’s private because, for our culture, doing that in public would be a way of breaching our dignity. So, privacy is not there to protect secrets. It’s there to protect dignity as human beings.

There is another argument, which is that while we don’t have anything to hide today, we might want to hide it tomorrow. Jews in Germany didn’t have to hide being Jewish before the Nazi party was in power, but then it became very convenient to hide that information. So, what I’m saying is the ‘nothing to hide’ argument doesn’t work conceptually, because it is not about hiding stuff, and it doesn’t work pragmatically because there might be situations in which there is no problem to reveal something today but it might become problematic in 5 or 20 years.

Finally, how would Dr. John Guelke respond to Rui’s comment?

Well, I would say people often don’t realise just how big a stake they have in privacy. Usually we’re more attuned to the dangers of losing privacy with regards to the people in our personal lives knowing things; even though we don’t think there’s anything wrong with activity or behaviour, we wouldn’t necessarily want to share these facts with every person in our life, every family member, every friend. Privacy is important partly because it enables us to have different kinds of relationships with different people. So, I could have a different level of intimacy with my neighbour, who might be much more conservative with me, than I would with my best friend, who I’ve seen at difficult moments in their life and I might be more forgiving of mistakes – and that’s before we even get into the question of people having very different lives and lifestyles and so on…

Would you give up your privacy to improve your safety? Are privacy and public security in conflict with one another? And, if so, which is more important? If we have nothing to hide, why should we be worried about giving up our privacy? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Jonathan McIntosh

181 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Dimitris Orfanoudis

    Which safety are you talking about ..The big brother thru the algorythms knows exactly where u go go what are you eating and what program you are watching…There is no privacy and safety……

    31/01/2018 Marit Hansen, Data Protection Officer for the German state of Schleswig-Holstei, has responded to this comment.

    • avatar
      Stephen Earle

      That’s paranoid rubbish, leave your phone at home and you’re as anonymous as a mouse

    • avatar
      Dimitris Orfanoudis

      Could be algorythms working with mobile phinew and electronic devicew the problem is that everyone carries a mobile…

    • avatar
      Dimitris Orfanoudis

      “Algorithms are everywhere: ‘They can decide whether you get a job interview, how much credit you access, and what news you see.’ “Issued by the Google…

    • avatar

      I think we should give it up

    • avatar
      Ivan Burrows

      Did France, Italy, Spain, etc feel safe when Merkel was spying on them ?

  2. avatar
    Róbert Bogdán

    Absolutely not. “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” BF

    • avatar
      None of your business

      I don’t feel invaded (privacy) by the goverment, are you?

  3. avatar
    Artur Pereira

    Europe is not worried about my safety.I was safer when I was allowed to carry my category B gun.Now I can’t due to article 5th of the directive 91/477/EEC.

    • avatar
      None of your business

      Not exactly, but people would be more likely to worry when the one who spies on you IS NOT the government because “they have nothing to hide” to them

  4. avatar

    Andrej is a welk meaning fool. Let’s take the failed Christmas day bomber as a example. He successfully smuggled a bomb in his genital region onto a international flight. There were all kinds of warning signs HE DIDN’T HAVE A PASSPORT, HIS PARENTS WARNED SECURITY SERVICES THAT HES DANGEROUS and still he was able to put a bomb on his body and get on a aircraft with 200 innocent souls on it. Now imagine if as a consequence state security officials orsered all passengers must undergo genital screening as part of the standard security checks. So the overwhelming majority wohld lose their freedim to travel unmolested because of some islamic terroriat loser who should never have been able to get on that plane in the first place. We are too tame. We can identify terrorists but we dont seem to know what to do with them. We need to start putting them internment camps, indefinate detention quite possibly lifelong arrest. We cannot go about to business as usuall when these people suppprt terrorists ideologically etc.
    The human rights of the innocent must supercede those of the criminals and scumbag terrorists who are trying to hurt the innocent. We should offer each detainre the option of relinquishing their citizeship and being deported to an islamic country. These nations should be threatened with war to make them comply. If its one thing the west is good at its threats so lets use them to our advantage for once. And hate preachers should be fair game for drone strikes and other means of shutging them up. And its time to censor islamic websites. Islamic nations should be made to teach humanism in their schools and step away from islamic teachings that are unhealthy for modern times. We can win this war but we must fight the ideology that threatens us head on.

    • avatar
      Andrew Rowe

      *Is worried about identity*
      *Uses name on a public website*

  5. avatar
    Paweł Kunio

    Nope. But western europeans should if they want to get more efficient in fighting islamist terror.

    • avatar
      Nicolò Perini

      Well, it s rather easy to find potential islamic terrorists…

    • avatar
      Salvo LtWorf

      Yes I also like random corrupted policemen to have access to whatever.

  6. avatar
    Stephen Earle

    Most western govts don’t have enough people to watch suspected terrorists let alone the millions of ordinary folk
    Only the paranoid amongst us think Big Brother is watching

    • avatar
      Salvo LtWorf

      Did you know that computers can automate tasks?

    • avatar
      Stephen Earle

      Salvo LtWorf , that’s really smart ? I never that !!
      So when the computers have recorded hundreds of millions of conversations then where are the people required to listen to them and act on them
      Try to live in the real world

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Nobody physically has to sit and listen or read anything, the computers don’t record they monitor, and they only flag things up if they pick up very specific words or combinations of words….so as long as your e-mails or online chat don’t include details of bomb making then no-one gives a toss what you are saying …. the irony is, the majority of people who get up in arms about their “privacy” have so little of interest going on in their lives that is no one is ever going to waste time paying them any attention

  7. avatar
    Scott Crawford

    I don’t believe there is a clear correlation between the two. The bad guys always find ways to avoid the latest techniques. So no….no no no!

  8. avatar
    Dimitris Orfanoudis

    “Algorithms are everywhere: ‘They can decide whether you get a job interview, how much credit you access, and what news you see.’ ” Issued by Google…

  9. avatar
    Steven Paxton

    “Whoever forskes liberty in the name of Security deserves neither”

    -Benjamin Franklin

  10. avatar
    Eunice Ford

    I have no problem with encroaching on my privacy… I have nothing to hide. I am an honest law abiding citizen, why should I be concerned?

    • avatar

      Because it’s really creepy. What if your ex was in a position to spy on you, and could say it was for safety reasons? What if they could get you thrown into jail or an asylum because they “found suspicious messages?” My argument does have a lot of what-ifs, but it is valid. Besides, some of these bombers carried their bombs in places like their crotch. Do you really want to be felt up and down every time you get on a plane?

  11. avatar
    Πλάτων Μανιάς

    in a democratic country, if you are a law-abiding citizen, you have nothing to be afraid of: safety from criminals is more important than privacy.
    In a dictatorship, it is the opposite: if you have no privacy from the state security guards, you will soon lose safety…

  12. avatar
    Franco Suarez

    Would you be willing to have your genitals destroyed, so, you can never be raped? It is a very Anglo/Saxon practice to offer protection for subjugation, although, most Europeans do not really have ANY privacy, or safety. But exploitation, intimidation and institutionalized violence. Let’s get real.

  13. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    Terrorism bleeding Europe dry with unnecessary damaging expenses. Five euro for a knife five million to try to stop it.

  14. avatar
    Peter Harvey

    A silly question.

    If my trousers were on fire — yes of course.
    If some glib salesman told me to take my trousers because they might catch fire — no, lf course I wouldn’t.

  15. avatar
    Thomas Beavitt

    I do not have any privacy left to give up. Fortunately, as far as this discussion is concerned, neither is there any “I” who could have had privacy in the first place.

  16. avatar
    Paul X

    The question is too generic to be of any value
    “Would you give up your privacy to improve your safety?”…….the obvious answer is yes…I wouldn’t care less if someone films me in the shower if it stops me being the victim of a terrorist attack

    In reality there are certain levels of privacy which must be given up and will help make this world a safer place, and there are other things which are of no benefit to security and should always remain private…….ensuring the dividing line between the two remains the holy grail

  17. avatar

    no paul x u r too extreame. i would prefer privacy

  18. avatar
    Christos Ioannou

    No. Why have to call and wait for the police when you can buy a gun? Its faster more reliable and the only life and responsibility you have to worry about is your own. More guns, more Trump!

  19. avatar
    Carlos Branco

    Dictature of Bruxells is Doomed. Deport the problem and the responsable for bring the cancer to europe need to hold responsability.

  20. avatar

    A lot of your privacy has already been taken by the internet. Your e-mail, your name and your birth date.And has the internet made the world any safer? I don’t think so. I think you should keep the last things that are still private to yourself and find a way to make your own life safe. Because giving up more privacy will only put you in more danger.

  21. avatar
    Marko Martinović

    EU is not free and already has thoughtpolice. Certain opinions are punishable. loosing your privacy is now also loosing what is left of your freedom

  22. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    Depends who is doing the monitoring, if its the EU’s new Gestapo department then no.

  23. avatar
    Boyko Vesselinov

    Losing freedoms in exchange for the freedom of EU leadership to import jihadists is not a good deal.

  24. avatar
    Róbert Bogdán

    We should find ways to improve safety without invading privacy or limiting individual freedom. Freedom is our core principle, that’s what we are defending, that’s what’s assaulted. If we give up our principles, what’s left fighting for? Freedom doesn’t come cheap, so I expect a higher cost in current situation, but not our rights, liberties and freedom.

  25. avatar
    Andrew Potts

    Once I would have agreed but when you see the EU run unelected, policies determined by lobby groups. See smaller countries coerced then I would worry.

  26. avatar
    Kokonas George

    Tyranny occurs when absolute power is granted to a ruler. In a tyrannical government, the ruler becomes corrupt and uses his power to further his own interests instead of working for the common good.

    The rule of law is the principle that no one is exempt from the law, even those who are in a position of power. The rule of law can serve as a safeguard against tyranny, because just laws ensure that rulers do not become corrupt. Aristotle

    • avatar
      Dee O'brien

      I’ll look forward to seeing Merkel on trial for her disatrous immigration policy that’s has killed a lot of people both in the Mediterranean and Europe…

  27. avatar
    John Zervas

    Νo. In my country we have a saying “Freedom needs virtue and courage”. Enough said….

  28. avatar
    Chris Pavlides

    No. We grow up with privacy & unlocked doors. Today there is already no privacy, thus If you can not perform any better please go home.

  29. avatar
    Jez Boulton

    Lol the UK already has. There are more cameras here than in any other country. The UK likes taking control

  30. avatar
    Jez Boulton

    Lol the UK already has. There are more cameras here than in any other country. The UK likes taking control

  31. avatar
    Jez Boulton

    Lol the UK already has. There are more cameras here than in any other country. The UK likes taking control

  32. avatar
    Patricio DeLibre

    # in ending 20th, maybe.
    Nowdays Rigth just say N0 (balance un porc.hUnmain,tag$him)
    as slavery was Ol passed history.
    #Clear we just need Clear Law(notcHannelOfLie$)

  33. avatar
    Mauricio Giordanelli

    There’s no reasonable expectation of privacy if you’re out and about in a public space. What happens in your home, however, is a different matter .

  34. avatar
    David Fernandes Coelho

    My privacy is in my home as soon as I am in public I behave and I dont have nothing to hide. My privacy ends where whoever others starts.

    • avatar
      Albert Masats

      If you have a smartphone a smartTV or a windows or mac computer in you home let me say to you that have no privacy…

    • avatar
      David Fernandes Coelho

      Albert Masats Ok now that is something else and that I obviously dont agree with

  35. avatar
    Albert Masats

    Not a good deal if you lose freedom. I think there are ways to battle public insecurity without invading privacy.

    • avatar
      Arber Kukaj

      That was never for safety. That was always to control domestic dissident organizations or individuals.

  36. avatar
    Bódis Kata

    You give up a great deal of your privacy to have access to important “free” services like FB and Google. ;)

  37. avatar
    Róbert Bogdán

    I’d rather pay more for safety measures that don’t limit personal freedom or invade privacy. Freedom is a natural right. Safety is a luxury.

  38. avatar
    Peter Ayolov

    Винаги, дори и без да ме питат го давам прайвъситу.

  39. avatar
    George Guydosh

    Laughable how these freedom people are advocating freedom. Until they find themselves in the need for safety… Limiting “natural” liberties because of some common good has always been the hallmark of societies. It’s rather populist (=unintelectual, plain visual) to see only the immediate gain without thinking on later consequences.

    • avatar
      Henrique Saias

      Being safe doesn’t require giving up privacy. You have been fooled if you think otherwise, sorry.

    • avatar
      George Guydosh

      If you think sifting through emails or being recorded by surveillance cameras is no infringement on privacy then let’s call it not giving up on privacy.

  40. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    The question is irrelevant as you have already lost your privacy. If you are in any doubt just have a look at the information even this site retains on you. If you are on a mobile its even worse as they know everything about you and are tracking you in real time. The question is ‘Do you trust the people monitoring your every movement ?’

    • avatar

      That may be true if you live in a shitty country that requires ID for buying prepaid sim cards.

  41. avatar
    Cãlin Rednic

    No sane person would agree with such a terrible thing… untill he/her suffers the effects of a crime.

  42. avatar
    Anatilde Alves

    There’s no such thing as privacy, unless you live in a cave without any type of communication. Honestly when they found out the American government was spying on their phones, nothing happened. We are all data for the capitalism machine.

    • avatar
      Stefan Aldimirov

      That thinking makes you data in any machine…

    • avatar
      Anatilde Alves

      Does it? I mean have you ever surfed the dark web? Your info is on sale for everyone that wants it for marketing purposes. That’s not a way of thinking, it’s reality.

    • avatar
      Antoine Che

      Then Place them in the Parliament and official buildings for the people to check their “representatives”…

  43. avatar
    Frederico Carvalhao Gil

    “Un peuple prêt à sacrifier un peu de liberté pour un peu de sécurité ne mérite ni l’une ni l’autre, et finit par perdre les deux.” (B.F.)

  44. avatar
    Matej Mlinarič

    There is no privacy in digital world. Everything that anybody does is stored, analyzed and used to identify potential threats. Just that is not where the problem lies. In order for us to have security we need to have much stricter laws for anybody that propagates, engages or in any way support those that do this. Mass deportation of those that refuse to respect our laws and populations is necessary to have security. Mentality of those that want to kill us is explained in third link. Especially make no mistake in this. Those that want to kill us have no problem getting killed themselves so they don’t really care about our laws and only thing they consider are consequences. Weaker response you have bolder they will be. So we have 2 options and that is either keep them out or preferably deal with them permanently. For any islamists there should be death penalty. Eventually they will either ran out or stop targeting our populations. But either way more of them there are worse the future will look like. Also i doubt that they would go peacefully so its necessary to prepare our populations to deal with anything. Which means that we need access to weapons and training, if need ever arises. Cause law enforcement cannot do it anymore on their own. It was EU and leftist governments that put us all into this position in first place so why exactly should anybody give up their freedoms so that you can pretend that its not your fault or just hide grim reality of this situation? Its very naive from you to think that you can reason with them or bribe them with welfare so that they won’t want to target our populations. Cause to them anybody that is not one of them is a potential enemy. That is why they have no problem targeting children in order to break our will to resist and let them take control. Neither are our countries first ones that have to deal with this. Take Lebanon for example that was once majority Christian country and now its stronghold for Hezbollah to wage proxy war against Israel on behalf of Iran. So really don’t make same mistake as they did by ignoring this very obvious threat until it was to late to stop it and they lost everything as result. That is what you risk happening everywhere in western world.

  45. avatar
    Sabin Popescu

    He, who is willing to sacrifice a little liberty in order to gain a little safety, deserves neither and will, eventually, lose both.

  46. avatar
    Vassiliki Xifteri

    N O … We have a saying in my country: “The good is not good unless it becomes in a good way.” The terror attacks happen because there is a lack of education and there is weapon trade. I would start with those too. In the long ran, if we improve them, the future for many generations to come will be brighter.

  47. avatar

    Haha EU lets millions of unvetted individuals in now says give up our privacy for our safety. How about you vet and deport for our safety. But that not apart of the EU Karlegi plan is it

  48. avatar

    I don’t buy your warmongering and fear persuading.
    If the State does its job of protecting people instead of protecting the interests of corporations there won’t be the need to increase surveillance.

  49. avatar

    No. In south we use to live with open doors and stiil keep pur privacy. Thus please find another way.

  50. avatar

    First of all, I don’t feel unsafe.

    But when I’m in a public space, what I do is public. Surveillance cameras in public doesn’t threaten my privacy. These cameras seem like a smart way to solve crimes.

  51. avatar

    Do you have or believe in privacy? You must be kidding, right?!…

  52. avatar

    Even if you turn EU into a prison, there will not be “safety”.
    However, you should at least protect our borders, and send “migrants” back.

  53. avatar


    But I don’t consider public spaces to be private. Just put them up.

  54. avatar

    Those who sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither

  55. avatar

    we should not have to give up our privacy for our own safety and the safety of our children.

  56. avatar
    Andrew neill

    Hello everyone we should not sacrifice our privacy as I have important things in my life that I don’t want anyone knowing

  57. avatar


  58. avatar

    No. Lets keep that sort of thing in china.

    • avatar

      Jeroen, ah but a bit like the plague, what starts in the east, inevitably travels west.

    • avatar

      Luckily i dont need societies then.

  59. avatar

    I don’t see how monitoring public spaces for crime prevention will affect my privacy.

    • avatar

      Christos, How about face recognition technology?

    • avatar

      Dobromir, as long isn’t in my privet places I’ve no problem.

    • avatar

      Christos, you don’t see the implications of face recognition? Really?!!!

    • avatar

      Cláudia, yes as I said, as long as it’s not in my privet spaces I’ve no problem. I believe you want a terrorist to be recognized by cameras before sets of a bomb in a train station and kill dozens of innocent people.

    • avatar

      Christos, The thing is that it could be applied to your private places. The tech is available and even Facebook can potentially match your face to any photo that anyone uploads no matter if the sample was taken at your private place or if you gave them permission. It’s a feature that you supposedly can turn off, but who is to say that if you do not see it in the user interface, it’s not being done on the back-end.
      At best this is used to better track your actions so they can target you for advertising.
      At worst, this is used to influence elections, illegal tracking, spying on your private life, blackmail and extortion.
      “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”, right?

    • avatar

      Dobromir, I’ve nothing to hide, the issue you’re referring is cyber privacy and security and it’s an other thing.

    • avatar

      Christos, Shanghai is experimenting with the trial of a “smart city” technology….so the combination of cctv, AI and personal ID enables it to not just to track movement and behaviour..but also to directly affect them….ie low level anti-social behaviour (littering) may incur a fine….others may inhibit the use of public transport (which require photo id to access)… when you have these mega cities, for sure you need a high degree of technical oversight to manage transportation, resource allocation etc…..but the implications are concerning.
      P.S., we ALL have something to hide…however trivial

  60. avatar

    It seems like a highway to a fascist society… It would be much better to eliminate those (values, laws, and procedures) responsible for the mess we are having and will have even more in the near future. 🔪🧨💣Do not worry for us, more crimes will just convince us of your lack of capability to manage society and we will self organize ourselves. 😄

  61. avatar

    Privacy is safety and there is not the dilemma

  62. avatar

    Lol give up OUR privacy for safety lol … Got a better debate .. should Europe stop taking decisions behind closed doors meetings ??

  63. avatar

    As long as big brother stays out of my house I dont realy care as I have nothing to hide.

  64. avatar

    Plenty of EU citizens’ money to pay for this rubbish. No money to help actual EU citizens.

  65. avatar

    The person to give away freedom for safety deserves neither, Quote from some one famous, but still fits this.

  66. avatar

    Not a fan of this, what’s the next step after facial recognition? Put a tracking chip in every person? It will surely be easier to track someone that is kidnapped or etc… But if we stay realistic a criminal will always find a way to hack/crack this. The best way would be to change humans behaviour, but if we may have noticed in history this isn’t possible 😅

  67. avatar

    Never give up privacy, no matter what.

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