Hankkeen esittely / project abstract

The aim of the project is to establish a strong expertise on which to build other high-class research projects. Privacy is an area of legal, social and philosophical enquiry, where future challenges can be foreseen, especially because of the rapid digitalisation spreading across the globe. The practical aim of the project is to create a positive and inspiring research environment, which can work as a home base for various later privacy-related projects. In all these aspects Reconfiguring Privacy aims to do pioneering work in the socio-legal research community in Finland.

The project has a three-fold purpose. The first aim is to provide an analysis of the European law of privacy, its content and scope. The research will focus on the transnational level and thus national jurisdictions are mostly excluded from the study. The main legal sources are the European Convention on Human Rights and the primary law of the European Union on the one hand, and central case law from the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of the European Union on the other. The two European courts produce ambiguous and contradictory interpretations of privacy. By analysing the argumentation of ground-breaking judgements the research will show the various concepts of privacy currently operating in European supranational law. In addition, the research seeks to clarify the relationship between privacy as a fundamental right and the protection of personal data as an ever stronger legal principle in EU law. The question the project addresses is thus: What is privacy? The most appropriate method for this first part of the enquiry is a traditional doctrinal method (legal dogmatics), i.e. interpretation and systematisation of legal norms on the basis of relevant legal sources.

In addition to providing a better understanding of the legal definition of privacy, the project aims to reveal politically charged conceptions of privacy. For this purpose, the legal source material will be analysed from a political perspective. Privacy and personal data protection are issues where constant political, economic and moral battles are being fought. Strong interests are displayed by industry lobbyists and human rights activists alike. Increased protection of privacy is today a value worth fighting for, and against. The project will engage in a critical deconstruction of the principles of privacy protection as they appear in law. This way the research will be able to provide a better understanding of the sociological and political underpinnings of privacy regulation. The most important material will be judgements from the European courts. The method is deconstructive reading revealing argumentation structures and patterns.

The third aim of the project is critique of current privacy regulation. In order for such a critical reflection of the law to be made, the step-by-step approach is necessary. Clarification of the law combined with a description of its underlying political, economic and moral aims are required before rigorous critical engagement. The method for this part of the study consists of critical legal sociology, where the law is contrasted with societal factors. This tradition of critique has long roots in legal theory, spanning from Durkheim’s studies on the division of labour via Marx’s critique of the economic substructure of the law to poststructuralist analyses of power. A similar methodology has been used by legal realists and the Critical Legal Studies movement in the U.S. The study utilises these approaches with the aim of providing a thorough analysis of the societal implications of privacy regulation. It questions the political aims of privacy and personal data regulation asking what the ever-increasing cries for more privacy show about European societies more generally.