Perceptions of Privacy

FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. P’16 addresses privacy and security issues at CSAD’s biennial conference.


Just a week after the FBI announced it found a way into the iPhone of a terrorist slain after the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, FBI Director James B. Comey Jr. P’16 visited Kenyon to address privacy and security issues.

"I am grateful to all of you for fighting to find a space to talk about privacy and encryption," said Comey, who gave a livestreamed keynote speech at “The Expectation of Privacy: Encryption, Surveillance and Big Data” conference to a packed house on April 6. The conference, hosted by the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD), continues with speakers and panel discussions through April 8.

Comey has had a high public profile this year as the FBI challenged Apple’s refusal to help the government access the terrorist’s iPhone. In February, Comey said at a congressional hearing that this dispute is “the hardest question I’ve seen in government.”

CSAD Director Thomas Karako said, “For Kenyon, it’s a timely coincidence that the case of the FBI versus Apple developed around the same time as the conference. But, in another sense, this is just the latest in a long string of debates over privacy and surveillance.”

Rapidly changing technology could erode the distinction between the public and private spheres that form the basis of Western liberal democracy, Karako said. In that way, these issues reach beyond people who shop online or deposit checks through their smartphones. “Even if you live off the grid, you should still be interested in what the grid is doing, because the grid is interested in you,” he said.

Vincent Phillip Munoz personally is wrestling with the issues of privacy that he will discuss during an April 7 panel at the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater, “Foundations of a Right to Privacy.”

The associate professor of religion and public life at the University of Notre Dame notes that his employer will give him a $10 monthly deduction on his health insurance premium if he agrees to a health screening that gives the university his cholesterol numbers, blood work and other measurements.

“Do I really want my employer to have this information? How will it be used in the future? They are creating a baseline of measurements, but for what?” Munoz said. “I have a hard time believing if my information reveals that I am more expensive to insure than the average Notre Dame faculty member that sooner or later my insurance company is not going to use that information against me.

“I think we have no idea how all the information gathered about us — how healthy we are, who we text, what websites we visit, how often we deposit money at the local ATM versus via our phone — might be used, because the uses of that information have yet to be conceived.”

The conference concludes on the morning of April 8 with issues closer to home. “The Expectation of Privacy on a College Campus” will be discussed by Jill Engel-Hellman, director of housing and residential life and assistant dean of students; Ron Griggs, vice president for library and information services; Jared Hoffman, associate director for enterprise infrastructure; and Robert Hooper, director of campus safety.

“We are not just picking a hot-button topic,” Karako said. “We are stepping back and reflecting on these issues in a very Kenyon way by asking bigger questions about things like the concept of limited government.”

For more information on the conference, contact the CSAD office at 740-427-5423.