6.962 - Privacy: Modern and post-modern privacy models for the Information Age:
Graduate Directed Reading Seminar

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6.962 - Privacy: Modern and post-modern privacy models for the Information Age: This seminar will explore the sociological, technical and legal background of modern information privacy. Through leading primary sources in modern privacy theory, we will examine how those privacy models have worked to date. With this understanding of modern privacy, we will ask whether current ideas about privacy provide the necessary guidance to address privacy questions posed by rapidly expanding information age technologies. The seminar will read roughly one book-length work per week (or equivalent) and students will write several seminar papers.

The reading list will be adjusted to address issues that arise in the course of discussion.
Permission of the instructor required.


Thursdays 2:30 - 4:00pm


Daniel J. Weitzner: djweitzner@csail.mit.edu


I. Modern Privacy - a starting point

Week 1 - 7 Feb 2013
  • A. Westin, Privacy and Freedom (1966), ch. 1-4.
Week 2 - 14 Feb 2013 (meeting on 19 Feb)
Week 3 - 21 Feb 2013
Privacy Protection Measures in the Ten Years Since Privacy and Freedom
II. Foundations Theory of Community, Individual Identity and Society
Week 4 - 28 Feb 2013
  • G. Orwell, 1984
Writing Assignment #1: "Big Brother's Privacy Problem." Write a 1500-2000 word paper analyzing what 1984 teaches us about the threats that invasion of privacy poses to democracy and human dignity. Consider the following questions:
  • What specific privacy intrusions did Big Brother employ in creating and governing Oceana?
  • If there were enforceable rules similar to those proposed by Westin, the 1973 report or the 1977 report, could Ingsoc have gained power and created Oceana? Explain why or why not with respect to specific rules recommended in those reports.
Week 5 - 7 March 2013
  • M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish
    • especially Part One, Part Two, Part Three (chapter 3).
    • (this is not easy reading - don't leave for the night before class)
Week 6 - 14 March 2013
  • David Brin, Transparent Society
III. Case studies – privacy, discrimination and truth
Week 7 - 21 March 2013 Exercises is ground truth and civil liberties
Week 8 - 4 April 2013

Political activity: anonymity and transparency

Students seeking credits (and others on a voluntary basis) should come with written proposals for student-led seminar topics (weeks 12-14).

IV. Privacy in US Common Law and EU Civil Law

Week 9 - 11 April 2013
V. Dark Side/Light side views

Week 10 - 18 April 2013
Week 11 - 25 April 2013
IV. Student-led discussions
Week 12 - 6 May (Monday meeting by Hangout at 11am - 12:30pm) Privacy and Plausible Deniability
Week 13: 9 May Neuroscience and Privacy (Anna)

A. How do recent developments in neuroscience, particularly in neuroimaging, impact longstanding questions of privacy? How have such technologies been viewed by the courts?

1. Current overview of the main ethical, legal and social issues in neuroscience (read pgs 571-580; rest is optional):

Farah, M. J. (2012). Neuroethics: The ethical, legal, and societal impact of neuroscience. Annual review of psychology, 63, 571-591. (pdf)

2. Discussion of “neuroprivacy” and its legal implications:

Committee on Science and Law, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (2005).  Are your thoughts your own? “Neuroprivacy” and the legal implications of brain imaging.

3. Skim the next two papers:

- A skeptical look at brain imaging and privacy:

Farah, M. J., Smith, M. E., Gawuga, C., Lindsell, D., & Foster, D. (2009). Brain imaging and brain privacy: a realistic concern?. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21(1), 119-127. (pdf)

- A recent paper on brain scans and criminal re-offending (March 2013):

For summary, see Wired article or Nature News article.  Main article is optional:

Aharoni, E., Vincent, G. M., Harenski, C. L., Calhoun, V. D., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Gazzaniga, M. S., & Kiehl, K. A. (2013). Neuroprediction of future rearrest. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

B. Do brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) present their own set of ethical and privacy issues? Do BMIs (and more broadly, other commercial neuroscience-related technologies) present a distinct set of security concerns?

1.  Background (all optional; but they’re short and I highly recommend skimming these pieces to get an overview of the future potential of BMIs, as well as the current state of BMI clinical research and commercial applications)

- A future world with BMIs? A speculative overview

Nicolelis, M. A. (2011). Mind out of Body. Scientific American, 304(2), 80-83. (pdf)

- Clinical Uses (example of current research)

“Mind-Controlled Robotic Arm Shows Promise.” Nature News, May 16, 2012.

- Commercial Applications (overview)

Mind Control Goes Mainstream” Forbes, March 3, 2009.

Supplementary: Tan Le’s July 2010 TED talk and demo of Emotiv – skip through to see a demo of a commercial BMI.

2. Overview of ethical issues in brain-machine interfaces (skim both papers):

- Ethical issues in brain-machine interfaces – overview article

Nijboer, F., Clausen, J., Allison, B. Z., & Haselager, P. (2011). The Asilomar survey: stakeholders’ opinions on ethical issues related to brain-computer interfacing. Neuroethics, 1-38. (pdf)

- Vlek, R. J., Steines, D., Szibbo, D., Kübler, A., Schneider, M. J., Haselager, P., & Nijboer, F. (2012). Ethical Issues in Brain–Computer Interface Research, Development, and Dissemination. Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy, 36(2), 94. (pdf)
3. “Hacking” into a commercial BMI
- Read the paper below, or watch the video of the talk:

Martinovic, I., Davies, D., Frank, M., Perito, D., Ros, T., & Song, D. (2012, August). On the feasibility of side-channel attacks with brain-computer interfaces. In 21st USENIX Security Symp. (pdf)

C. Is Sententia’s notion of “cognitive liberty” a useful theoretical framework for discussing neuroethics? How does it relate to issues of privacy, autonomy and freedom that we have previously discussed?

1. Sententia, W. (2004). Neuroethical considerations: cognitive liberty and converging technologies for improving human cognition. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1013(1), 221-228.
Week 14: 16 May Contextual integrity (Fuming)
  1. Helen Nissenbaum, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2010) (if you don't have access to this book, read (2))
  2. Privacy as Contextual Integrity (Washington Law Review, Vol. 79, No. 1, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=534622)
  3. Consumer privacy bill of rights (p.15 - p.18)
  4. Daniel J. Solove, Privacy Self-Management and the Consent Paradox.
  5. Helen Nissenbaum, A Contextual Approach to Privacy Online.
  6. Fuming Shih, No Surprises: Quantifying Intrusiveness of Smartphone Applications By Detecting Objective Context Deviations (working draft)