Web sm.jpgName: Helen Nissenbaum

Institution: New York University

Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication & Computer Science
Senior Faculty Fellow, Information Law Institute


Helen Nissenbaum is Professor of Media, Culture and Communication, and Computer Science, at New York University, where she is also Senior Faculty Fellow of the Information Law Institute. Her areas of expertise span social, ethical, and political implications of information technology and digital media. Nissenbaums research publications have appeared in journals of philosophy, politics, law, media studies, information studies, and computer science. She has written and edited three books and a fourth, Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life, is due out in 2009, with Stanford University Press. The National Science Foundation, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Ford Foundation, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security have supported her work on privacy, trust online, and security, as well as several studies of values embodied in computer system design, including search engines, digital games, and facial recognition technology. With Lucas Introna, she recently published a report, Facial Recognition Technology : A Survey of Policy and Implementation Issues. Nissenbaum holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Stanford University and a B.A. (Hons) from the University of the Witwatersrand. Before joining the faculty at NYU, she served as Associate Director of the Center for Human Values at Princeton University.



U.S. Department of Homeland Security, NYU Center for Catastrophe Preparedness and Response

Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. Forthcoming, December, 2009.


Title of Project: Privacy, technology, policy and the integrity of social life


Privacy, conceived as contextual integrity, calls for the appropriate flow of personal information. By contrast, conceptions that have frequently informed laws, regulations, and technology design have claimed privacy as a right to shut off access to information, or a right to control personal information. This is a mistake not only because privacy is, as a result, regularly traded off against some other social good, such as security, efficiency, or free speech but because it fails to recognizes the complexity most people fully grasp in the ways they share information and allow information to be shared with other individuals and institutions.

The theory of contextual integrity recognizes this complexity, suggesting that informational norms govern the flow of information from sender to recipient.  These norms vary as a function of the social context, the capacities in which senders and recipients act, the types of information in question, and the principles under which information flows from party to party. Contextual integrity recognizes the crucial role information plays in a well-functioning society but it highlights the equally crucial role that appropriate constraints on the flows plays not only for the benefit of individuals, but for the integrity of social life itself. Well-designed laws, policies and technical systems do not stop flow of information instead they ensure that information flows appropriately.

My talk presents a brief overview of contextual integrity, showing how it can be used as a guide to understanding controversial cases and to developing system design requirements