Anonymity Versus Privacy in a Control Society


  • Rachel Melis University of Western Ontario



Society is becoming increasingly more securitized with surveillance technologies having entered a phase of ubiquity, with their components built into many of our daily digital devices. The default state of tracking, monitoring, and recording has fundamentally changed our social and communicative environments. Through the lens of surveillance, everything we do and say can be potentially categorized as a “threat.” Our technological devices become the means by which social control becomes informationalized. A common tool of resistance against these pervasive surveillance practices takes the form of arguing for greater privacy protections to be implemented through information privacy and data protection laws. However, beyond the complexity of the privacy discourse itself, there are diverse information environments not easily parsed by law where the tension between transparency and secrecy complicates privacy practices.

The main purpose of this article is conceptual. I consider what the practice of anonymity can offer that privacy does not. From a legal perspective, highlighting the nuances between privacy and anonymity helps us to understand the extent to which our speech and behaviors are becoming increasingly more constrained in the digital environment. In cultural and social contexts, privacy and anonymity often connote differing values; privacy is commonly considered a moral virtue, while anonymity is often maligned and associated with criminal or deviant behavior. In contrast to this understanding, I argue that anonymity should be reconsidered in light of the deterioration of privacy considerations as privacy practices are reframed as contractual resources that are co-opted by both the market and the state. Anonymity, more broadly construed as a mode of resistance to surveillance practices, allows for a more flexible, consistent, and collective means of ensuring civil liberties remain intact.

Author Biography

Rachel Melis, University of Western Ontario

PhD candidate in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies