Week Three 2014 to tackle ‘Ethics of Privacy’

In a society that regularly shares personal information on the Internet, installs surveillance cameras wherever possible and carries devices that can instantly capture anything from intimate moments to terrorist attacks — where is the line of privacy?

The Chautauqua community will discuss these questions and concerns during Week Three of the 2014 Season, which is themed “The Ethics of Privacy.”

Chautauqua Institution President Thomas M. Becker said the topic will focus on personal security rather than large-scale surveillance and privacy, in the wake of events such as Edward Snowden’s classified-information leak.

Becker explained the scope of the privacy debate, which reaches people of all demographics. Technology has allowed us to be more available than ever, which can have both positive and potentially negative repercussions.

“It’s extraordinary in what [technology] provides us in terms of safety and where people are,” he said. “In the midst of witnessing an accident halfway around the world, you can confirm that everybody is OK or not. I think one of the reasons that this is an important subject is that it is not generationally limited. It really is not only a societal experience but a global experience.”

The Institution hopes to foster a discussion by analyzing the ethics of privacy, including technology, psychology, the law and social sciences.

“What we try to do in [this discussion] is not prescribe an outcome,” Becker said, “but rather to take a complex subject and be an honest broker of those complexities.”

Each year, Chautauqua devotes a week to some aspect of ethics. As a complicated issue with many layers that is constantly developing, the subject lends itself to an annual discussion with a changing focus.

“You recognize that very little of it is really black and white,” Becker said. “There is the good versus the good, the bad versus the really awful. There are these choices that are set up, and the question is, ‘Have we created the right framework?’ ”