Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 24, Issue 3, pp 831–852 | Cite as

Respecting Context to Protect Privacy: Why Meaning Matters

  • Helen Nissenbaum
Original Paper


In February 2012, the Obama White House endorsed a Privacy Bill of Rights, comprising seven principles. The third, “Respect for Context,” is explained as the expectation that “companies will collect, use, and disclose personal data in ways that are consistent with the context in which consumers provide the data.” One can anticipate the contested interpretations of this principle as parties representing diverse interests vie to make theirs the authoritative one. In the paper I will discuss three possibilities and explain why each does not take us far beyond the status quo, which, regulators in the United States, Europe, and beyond have found problematic. I will argue that contextual integrity offers the best way forward for protecting privacy in a world where information increasingly mediates our significant activities and relationships. Although an important goal is to influence policy, this paper aims less to stipulate explicit rules than to present an underlying justificatory, or normative rationale. Along the way, it will review key ideas in the theory of contextual integrity, its differences from existing approaches, and its harmony with basic intuition about information sharing practices and norms.


Privacy Contextual integrity Privacy law Public policy Protecting privacy Networks 



An early version of this paper was presented at the Privacy Law Scholars Conference 2013 where James Rule, Mike Hintze, and other participants provided excellent commentary. I have benefitted from deep insights of many colleagues and from opportunities to present the work at the Amsterdam Privacy Conference, University of Washington, Fondation Télécom Seminar on The Futures of Privacy, and the EU JRC Ispra Workshop on Emerging ICT for Citizen Veillance. Thanks to Emily Goldsher-Diamond for outstanding and invaluable research assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Culture and CommunicationNYU MediaNew YorkUSA

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