Interview with Heikki Heikkilä
“Surveillance has many functions and not all of them are bad”
Interview about the advantages of surveillance and different practices of privacy.
Surveillance often has a negative connotation. In which ways can it be positive?
If you think in historical terms, surveillance has been an instrument for state surveillance police, insurance companies, banks, even the church. And it has very many different functions and not all of them have been bad. It maintains public trust it makes things operate better. If you want a loan from the bank and the bank knows how much money you have in your bank account, what your salary is and what your habits of spending money are, it's good for you that they know, because that helps you to get the loan. You don't have to beg them for it. It's a mutual policy which can be maintained there.
Which role do ethics play in regulation of technological innovations? And which role should they play?
That's a good question. Technology designers are not unethical people. Ethics come in to every profession in one way or another but the problem is that, when we're talking about surveillance technologies or digital media communication in general, all the ethical questions are so broad and difficult to anticipate so it's a huge challenge to take every ethical aspect into consideration.
What constitutes privacy to you?
This is something that I've been thinking about a lot. I've read a lot of books on privacy. It is kind of my synthesis of different ideas. It constitutes a different set of practices to what people actually do. I don't think privacy is primarily a value because values are very abstract. People don't execute values. They do meaningful things and values can be involved in them. You have to focus on what people do and why. In that sense I've come to the idea that there are four sets of practices which are crucial to privacy: One is sense of dignity the other is a possibility to retreat, to be alone. The third one is anonymity and fourth is secrecy. And by secrecy I mean that people appreciate the possibility to have confidential talks with particular people and not reveal those discussions to other people. In that sense secrecy is also elemental and important.