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Transparency, Secrecy and Privacy in Democratic Societies


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Moral and Political Philosophy

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics


Western democracies are committed to publicity in the affairs of government and to privacy in the affairs which are the business of the individual. However, despite an increase in legislative instruments aimed at enhancing transparency in governance and the protection of individual privacy, we observe an increase in state secrecy and a weakening of individual privacy. The realm of state secrecy persists in the form of classified intelligence programmes, espionage, secret military operations, diplomatic discretion, closed-door political bargaining, and bureaucratic opacity. Simultaneously, developments in information and communication technology challenge the value of individual privacy as more and more personal information is being collected, stored, and processed by private and public organizations such as banks, employers, the police, and governments. How should we respond to these social and political developments? This course provides conceptual tools to assess these developments by rethinking the role and value of transparency, secrecy and privacy in democratic states.

Course objectives

This course aims to offer an in-depth discussion of the role and value of information in a democracy and connect these with some current issues in public debate such as fake news, leaks of classified government information or privacy violations.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • the role of moral reasoning in social and political life;

  • the role and value of information in a democracy;

  • most influential theories of privacy;

  • most influential arguments regarding state secrecy and leaks;

  • the role of the media in a democracy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • analyse and interpret a philosophical text;

  • develop argumentative skills through seminar discussion and analysis of philosophical texts;

  • practice and further develop presentation skills;

  • reproduce and interpret the different concepts of privacy; relate philosophical arguments regarding the value of privacy to privacy issues arising in the context of big data market, data mining, and privacy-invasive technologies such as biometrics, CCTV cameras or radio frequency identification;

  • reproduce and interpret the different arguments pursued in the debate on state secrecy and unauthorized disclosures (e.g., whistleblowing);

  • reproduce and interpret the arguments in the emerging debate on fake news and the role of the media in democracy.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Presentation in class (30%)

  • Final paper (70%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of two subtests (see above).


The resit consists of one examination for all parts at once (100%), consisting of an essay of 3,000 words. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. No separate resits will be offered for subtest.
Class attendance and participation is required for taking the resit.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

  • The reading list will be posted on Brightspace.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga


Not applicable.