See Inside Scientific American Volume 309, Issue 5

How to Think about Privacy

Making sense of one of the thorniest issues of the digital age

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I. Imperfect Information

Focusing on facts is generally an effective first step to gaining clarity about a complex or elusive topic. In the case of privacy, the facts are denied to us. Those who have reduced our privacy, whether they are state or commercial actors, prefer that we do not reduce theirs. The National Security Agency (nsa), for example, long hid the full extent of its vast electronic surveillance operations. Even after the recent leaks by former NSA contractor Edward J. Snowden, we can know only approximately what is going on.

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