Privacy Versus Security: Problems and Possibilities for the Trade-Off Model

G. Valkenburg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


Considerable criticism has been levelled against thinking of privacy and security as being placed in a trade-off relation. Accepting this criticism, this paper explores to what use the trade-off model can still be put thereafter. In specific situations, it makes sense to think of privacy and security as simple concepts that are related in the form of a trade-off, even though it has been argued widely that this is a misrepresentation of concepts that are far too complex to be thought of in such a simple structure. As a first step, the sociotechnical analysis in this paper further highlights the complexities of the practice of body scanners installed at airports for security purposes. These complexities contribute additionally to rendering a simple privacy/security trade-off untenable. However, as a second step, the same analysis is thought through again so as to highlight opportunities to use the – deliberately simple – structure of the trade-off model to overcome part of its own shortcomings. At closer look, the empirical inaccuracy of the trade-off model becomes only problematic if it is used as a justification for imposing security measures that encroach privacy: “this small piece of privacy must be sacrificed, as this additional security is indispensable”. However, some right to existence is still retained for the trade-off model. Therefore, instead, it is suggested that the trade-off model be used on the one hand as a heuristic device to trace potential difficulties in the application of a security technology, and on the other hand as a framing that by its simplicity and appeal earns impetus for a particular discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReforming European Data Protection Law
EditorsS Gutwirth, R.E. Leenes, P De Hert
ISBN (Print)978-94-017-9384-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

Publication series

SeriesLaw, Governance and Technology Series

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