With reality TV shows and social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace exposing the private lives of citizens for all to see, Anita L. Allen, a leading scholar of privacy law and practical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, delivered the fourth lecture in the Adrienne Arsht Distinguished Speaker Series in Ethics on March 28 at Storer Auditorium.
Allen, deputy dean for academic affairs and the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at Penn, noted that people now live during historic times characterized by technology that can dispense information rapidly. “In an age of revelation, sensitive information will come to light, for better or worse,” she said. “Even our genomes may come to light.”
Facebook, iPhones, personal digital assistants, and other devices have allowed people to disclose all sorts of information, Allen explained, noting her teenage daughters’ insistence that she return their text messages as an example of how such technology has affected her own personal life. “A mom who doesn’t video chat is like a mom who doesn’t cook,” she said.
Allen, appointed last year by President Barack Obama to his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, questioned whether we are justified in disclosing sensitive information so readily, saying that issues of voluntary self-disclosure are not as clear-cut as other areas of disclosure.
She warned that sensitive information in the wrong hands can inflict tremendous harm, citing as an example unethical hospital workers who have access to medical records and dispense such information with bad intentions.
She also cited several cases of people’s privacy being infringed upon, from a school district that installed cameras in laptop computers issued to students to a woman who posted on the Internet information about a neighbor who had contracted a sexually transmitted disease.
The Arsht Distinguished Speaker Series in Ethics is an initiative of the UM Ethics Programs, which is codirected by UM professors Anita Cava and Kenneth Goodman.
Adrienne Arsht is a widely respected philanthropist and business and community leader in Miami and Washington, D.C. She is treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and is well known for the $30 million contribution to the City of Miami’s Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, renamed the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.
She serves on the University of Miami Board of Trustees and is a member of the Athletics Advisory Committee. Arsht has donated generously, giving $1 million to UM Ethics Programs in 2006, followed by a $5 million donation to the University in 2008, $2 million of which further supports the UM Ethics Programs. The initial gift, at the time equaling the largest gift supporting ethics programs in Florida, funded a suite of University-wide, interdisciplinary initiatives including an ethics debate series, a distinguished speakers program, and a faculty/student research program in ethics and community.