I'm a bit confused about how to apply John Rawls' theory of Justice as Fairness to the issue of privacy/security. Which statement below is correct?

  1. Justice as Fairness does not justify a decrease in privacy of users for an increased social/economic benefit of internet surveillance.

  2. Behind the veil of ignorance, everyone is seen to have a right to both privacy and security. However, there is an unequal power distribution when it comes to surveillance powers and powerless users. This inequality needs to benefit everyone, especially the least well-off

  • 1
    There's not really an argument given here for #1
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 21:39
  • 1
    The question seems to be confused in terms of when the veil of ignorance happens. The veil of ignorance is for Rawls a conceptual device to use when thinking about how we would organize society. It is not meant to describe the current situation.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 4, 2016 at 1:53

2 Answers 2


Perhaps it helps to keep in mind that behind the veil of ignorance, you never know what position in the society you may get.

So there is a motivational drive to weigh the respective gains and losses for every position and overall, but especially the ones with the least power to influence anything later on: the powerless and least well-off.

You will not want to ignore the impact on them if you could become one of them and simply have to bear the consequences.


You have to ask, given your understanding of sociology and given how well you've otherwise arranged society, what the likelihood is that the mass surveillance will be abused at the expense of those worst off. Then, you have to consider what the benefit will be to those worst off. Imagine this from such a perspective, and make the "selfish" choice.

Personally, I feel that some version of effective encryption will, from this point forward, always be necessary, even in the most ideal society one can realistically imagine. Until we reach such an ideal society, I think the US Constitution provides pretty good approximations of the boundary line, and that the current extent of US surveillance is unconstitutional. I particularly feel that metadata is more sensitive than judges have yet understood. But, that's all me answering the question as a realist, and I think of Rawlsian philosophy as an idealistic one... I'm not sure how much more surveillance I would abide in a more ideal world, but I think it would be more.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .