Anita L. Allen

in Unpopular Privacy

Published in print November 2011 | ISBN: 9780195141375
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918126 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Feminist Philosophy


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This chapter argues that employee and professional confidentiality rules coerce silence, generally for good purposes. Confidentiality is an arena of justified information privacy coercion. Keeping appropriate silences has been recognized as a challenging goal of personal virtue since Aristotle. When employees and professionals obtain knowledge of others in the course of their work, they incur ethical responsibility to comply with a complex set of civility rules, including those of confidentiality. Rules of silence are spelled out in ethical codes and are enacted into law. The people who manage corporations are duty bound to maintain trade secrets and to not disclose information that may lead to trading on insider information. The laws of confidentiality for health care professionals are open to criticism but are generally popular. The laws that require confidentiality of lawyers are also open to criticism, and are somewhat less popular. Many people are ambivalent about the adversary system that enables lawyers to profit handsomely from keeping the secrets of despicable criminals. Financial incentives exist for voluntarily assuming difficult legal burdens of silence. Payment for secrecy is not the whole story of why confidentiality is justly coerced. The larger story involves dignity and respect for moral agency, moral autonomy and the welfare of citizens of liberal democracies. Laws that demand confidence-keeping of professionals (lawyers, doctors, corporate insiders) are generally popular -- that is, they are generally applauded by the public and embraced by practitioners in the field along with experts who study the field.

Keywords: confidentiality; information privacy; professionals; American Bar Association; insider trading; Tarasoff rule; psychotherapists; doctors; lawyers; employees; waiver; mental health; HIPAA

Chapter.  11060 words. 

Subjects: Feminist Philosophy

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