Bert-Jaap Koops

On legal boundaries, technologies, and collapsing dimensions of privacy

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Humans and society need boundaries, and the law is a primary tool for setting boundaries. The boundary-marking concepts that we use to categorise reality and that constitute our symbolic order, fundamentally shape our legal frameworks. But how can boundaries be defined in a technology-pervaded world in which space, self, and society increasingly collapse? This paper aims to show that current and emerging technologies challenge ingrained boundary-marking concepts in law. Can the "body" still be seen as distinct from its environment? Can "private" space still be delineated from public space? Through a discussion of technological developments related to human-machine interfaces, the evaporation of the home and public-space surveillance, the paper argues that previously independent dimensions of privacy are collapsing, and that it becomes increasingly meaningless to ask "where" a privacy intrusion takes place. Privacy continues to have a physical element, but this physical element is growing more elusive as it cannot be neatly tied to human persons or specific places. Thus, there is a need to find innovative, non-physical boundary-marking concepts in privacy law. This illustrates that when basic boundary-marking concepts lose their usefulness in providing guidance for human behaviour, the structure on which particular legal systems are built may have to be fundamentally revised.


  • Boundary-Marking Concepts
  • Spatial Privacy
  • Bodily Integrity
  • Cyborgs
  • Surveillance


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