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Roger Clarke's 'Digital Spaces'

From Computing Technologies to Digital Spaces:
Towards a Framework for the Regulation of Privacy Impacts

Preliminary Sketch of 9 October 2016

A possible Chapter for Koops B.-J. (ed.) 'Homes and Computers: The Privacy Expectations in Physical and Digital Spaces'

Roger Clarke **

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This Chapter identifies the original and continually changing conceptions of 'computers' and the forms of privacy intrusiveness that they have given rise to. Its purpose is to establish a foundation for the examination of two key questions: (1) What are the reasonable expectations of privacy in digital spaces? (2) What boundary-markers are available whereby legal protections for privacy can be established, whose breach requires legal authorisation?

The Chapter commences with a brief review of the components, architecture and functions of computers. Key developments are traced, including marriage with communications, resulting in electronic messaging, in distributed computing, and in remote data storage, recently commoditised and 'in the cloud'; and marriage with effectors resulting in robotics.

Generations of device-types are reviewed, from large organisational installations, via desktops and laptops, to mobiles / handhelds / smartphones / tablets / appliances, and on to 'eObjects' and computers closely associated with, and embedded in, people. It is shown how this sequence has featured the transfer of control over devices and their behaviour from users to suppliers, with concomitant function-creep to suppliers' associates and to third parties.

Generations of software are reviewed, from machine-language, via procedural languages, to functional languages and finally to generalised processing facilities that infer relationships from the empirical data provided to them. It is shown how human control over computers' functions has been rapidly decreasing, to the point that transparency of decision criteria is already being lost, and inscrutable machine decision-making is not merely emergent, but is being urged and applauded by proponents of AI and their beloved 'singularity'.

The Chapter concludes with a framework for the assessment of intrusions into personal digital spaces, commencing with the physical and extending to the virtual, identifying correlates of visual intrusion, and providing examples of breaches of human needs in further dimensions, such as freedom of personal behaviour and experience.

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in Cyberspace Law & Policy at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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From the site's beginnings in August 1994 until February 2009, the infrastructure was provided by the Australian National University. During that time, the site accumulated close to 30 million hits. It passed 65 million in early 2021.

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Created: 9 October 2016 - Last Amended: 9 October 2016 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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