Negative Autonomy - The Democratic Need For Negative Freedom Of Information

What if there exists a right in the premises of liberal democracy, that has been overlooked and underutilized, not intentionally concealed but simply unrecognized as a crucial set of principles to acknowledge.

Negative Privacy

New information is analogous to a program that needs to be installed in your brain before it can be used, similar to how a computer program needs to be installed before it can be utilized. Your brain exhibits exceptional ability in the process of installing information and subsequently using it. What if we don't always realize that there is something being installed and utilized? That would mean a world with omnipresent (digital) information can be very dangerous.

Laws, at their core, represent norms that are designed to safeguard things of value, and this protection can be achieved both through action and abstention. Action refers to actively ensuring the presence or establishment of something, while abstention involves refraining from actions that would undermine the desired state. For instance, peace can be defined negatively as the absence of war, highlighting the avoidance of conflict. On the other hand, peace can also be defined positively as the encompassing presence of harmony, emphasizing the proactive pursuit of a harmonious state.

If privacy is achieved by seclusion, negative privacy is achieved by absence of inclusion. Negative privacy enables individuals to think about being included in information exchange without consent as a violation of their rights. Recognizing this term makes it easier for individuals to say “no” while making it easier for policy makers to say “yes”.

The FOIA Paradox

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a fascinating law from 1967 that plays a crucial role in safeguarding the autonomy of U.S. citizens. This law grants individuals the right to access and obtain information regarding the data that the government holds about their personal lives. By ensuring transparency and enabling citizens to be aware of the existence and location of their personal information, the FOIA serves to protect their personal autonomy.

It is a paradox that individuals have the right to control information about their own person through laws like the FOIA, yet they do not seem have the same level of control over the information they consume.

Negative Freedom Of Information In Action

There are already attempts in place to protect individuals from unwanted information in their lives. Advertisements are required to be clearly labeled, AI must disclose its nature, and government-affiliated YouTube channels must declare their affiliations. These efforts aim to prevent individuals from inadvertently consuming and implementing unwanted programs or information into their lives.

It is questionable whether these efforts are truly enough to save democracy in the face of the challenges posed by misinformation, polarization, and the manipulation of information.

How To Save Democracy?

While there are some existing measures in place to protect individuals from unwanted information, such as clear labeling and disclosure requirements, it is evident that much more collective effort is needed to explore and address the concepts of negative autonomy, negative liberty, negative freedom of information, and negative privacy. The challenges posed by misinformation, polarization, and the manipulation of information require a comprehensive and multifaceted approach that goes beyond mere labeling and disclosure.

It is essential for individuals to actively exercise their right to choose and control the information they consume, but it is also crucial for societies to create an environment that empowers individuals to make informed choices and navigate the complex information landscape. Only through collective effort can we strive towards a healthier and more democratic information ecosystem.

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