An event with Anita L. Allen

Postmortem Privacy

In 1903, a lawyer called W. Archibald McClean predicted that whatever “the future dominion of the right to privacy” would be, it would be built on the premise “that whatever right of privacy an individual has, dies with him or her.” Call this traditional view the “no-privacy-right-for-the-dead” doctrine. In this event, Anita Allen will discuss with other experts how today, a more sustained consideration of postmortem privacy is essential.

This is especially so as there are increasing calls to protect rights to digital assets linked to a deceased person and there is ever improving technology, including generative artificial intelligence, that allows for the reanimation of both deceased performers and ordinary loved ones. Several proposed laws that would explicitly extend rights to the future performances of the dead have recently been circulated, something that formed a key provision of the recent Hollywood collective bargaining agreement between producers and the actors’ union. At the same time, the societal disfavoring on privacy grounds of the sensationalization of a person’s death is both longstanding and evergreen, think for example of the recent crash scene photographs of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant.

Anita Allen will explain why the no-privacy-for-the-dead doctrine is untrue in tort law and beyond, and why it should be. It will identify interests warranting protecting and concerns about income, race and gender equity that must contour postmortem privacy.

About the speakers

Anita L. Allen is the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy. A graduate of Harvard Law with a PhD from the University of Michigan in Philosophy, Allen is internationally renowned as an expert on philosophical dimensions of privacy and data protection law, ethics, bioethics, legal philosophy, women’s rights, and diversity in higher education. From 2010 to 2017, Allen served on President Obama’s Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. At present, she is the H.L.A. Hart Visiting Fellow at the Faculty of Law, University of Oxford.

Natali Helberger is Distinguished University Professor of Law and Digital Technology with a special focus on AI at the University of Amsterdam and member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). She is a member of the executive board of the Institute for Information Law (IViR), scientific director of the gravitation program ‘The Algorithmic Society’ (AlgoSoc) and co-director of the AI, Media & Democracy Lab. She served as expert for two Council of Europe Committees on AI and Fundamental Rights. Her research over the past five years has focused on how AI and ADS are transforming society and their implications for law and governance.

Marjolein Lanzing is Assistant Professor Philosophy of Technology at the University of Amsterdam. Previously, she worked on the Googlization of Health as a post-doc of the ERC project ‘Digital Good’ (PI Tamar Sharon) at the Interdisciplinary Hub for Security, Privacy and Data Governance (Radboud University). She finished her PhD-research ‘The Transparent Self’: A Normative Investigation of Changing Selves and Relationships in the Age of the Quantified Self at the 4TU Center for Ethics and Technology (University of Technology Eindhoven).

Thomas Nys is Associate Professor of Philosophy, especially Ethics, at the University of Amsterdam; he is a Kant scholar and at present supervising a project on Kant’s meta-ethical philosophy. Nys has published widely on ethical issues of autonomy, paternalism, nudging and euthanisia. He is also the editor of the Routledge Handbook on the Philosophy of Evil, together with Stefan de Wijze, and is currently completing a book on Nudging (with Bart Engelen).

Beate Roessler (moderator) is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. She has published widely on privacy and other topics in ethics, social, and political philosophy; her latest book is Autonomy: an Essay on the Life Well Lived (Polity, 2021). Her book Being Human in the Digital World which she is editing with Valerie Steeves is forthcoming with Cambridge UP (2024).

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