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Post-Mortem Considerations

(1)
The philosophical problem I wish to consider here is the ethical limits of spying on others,
when the reasons for spying are good. I want to explore the plausibility of three interrelated
ideas. The first idea is one I will call the anti-spying principle: spying on other adults is prima
facie unethical. Spying ought always to be approached with caution and circumspection.
Regardless of its motive, spying carries an ethical cloud. Spying is like cheating. It exploits
confidence in the rules of the game. Spying inherently involves taking advantage of those who
place their confidence in the social norms that shape a cooperative communal life. Spying
should be presumed wrong because it often uses secrecy to unfair advantage and interferes
with the enjoyment of beneficial modes of personal privacy that individuals expect others to
respect. The second idea is an exception to the anti-spying principle: spying on others is
ethically permissible, even mandatory, in certain situations, where the ends are good. In the
situations I have in mind, spying is prompted by genuine obligations of caretaking, defense of
others or self-defense. Having to spy can make a person uneasy. Yet spying can be a good
way to take care of your children, yourself and the people for whom you are professionally
responsible. As I have argued elsewhere, privacy is extremely important, but it is not
everything. (2) The third and final idea is a constraint on exceptions to the anti-spying
principle: where spying is ethically permitted or required, there are ethical limits on the
methods of spying. The virtuous spy will violate privacy and transparency norms, of course;
but he or she will, to the extent possible, continue to act with respect for the moral autonomy
and for the moral and legal interests of the investigative target.