In Philosophical Investigations, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgentein famously suggested that language is a public, shared phenomenon, and accordingly, that there is no such thing as a “private language.” A similar doubt might be raised about the possibility of a “private law”: Is a law that is not publicly shared a conceptual contradiction, in the way a private language might be? What are the publicity conditions on the concept of law? How much transparency does the notion of deliberative democracy itself require?
The conference will consider the topic of private laws in light of the recent controversy over secrecy, surveillance, and national security. Of particular recent interest are the debates surrounding the conduct of Edward Snowden and the policies of the National Security Agency (NSA). We will also consider the secret orders of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as well as the secret memos authored by lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush and Obama Administrations, and will compare different methods of maintaining secrecy and their impact on individual privacy rights and on rule of law values more generally.
The conference will address these and related questions in an interdisciplinary roundtable format that seeks to bring together scholars and practitioners from different backgrounds, with an eye to both theoretical and practical illumination.