The right to privacy.


I went down a weird road this week. I was a party last night, not a place where I thought that I would get my post for this week. After a couple of red wines, two other girls and I got to talking about our old mix tapes and how we used to record from the radio (play, record, pause!) and make these little radio shows. Nerdy, for sure.

The conversation turned to privacy, in a funny way. One friend was saying that her mom would always interrupt them to see what they were doing and end up talking on the tape in the background. We started talking about how privacy is something that we didn’t necessarily feel that we had growing up. Now more than ever, we are told that we do not have it anymore.

I had not considered privacy a human right before, in the way that my mind had sorted rights. For me, rights are these codes that we strive toward (and often, don’t achieve for others), so that we all have freedom and dignity, but also food, water and shelter. Do I need privacy to live, the same way I need food? I don’t think so. Do I expect privacy to live, the same way I expect respect and dignity? Probably.

I wanted to explore the idea of privacy as a fundamental right that we are born with (and which many parents don’t give their kids, when they read the diaries of their teenagers) and are deserving of; I want to critically consider it. So, humour me for a bit and let’s get a good old-fashioned debate on.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

This is Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Let’s break this down so we are all on the same page.

Arbitrary: based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

Interference: involvement in the activities and concerns of other people when your involvement is not wanted.

I don’t know about you but I don’t consider, say, Google‘s collection of my data as random. In general, I also don’t notice this collection, so it’s not exactly interference proper, but it’s closer to that than the other. I also don’t think that a program like PRISM is random, but again, it’s likely that most people don’t want that involvement.

If a Google salesman came to my door and asked me questions about my browsing history, I might be less inclined to cooperate and more inclined to think that it’s interfering with my privacy. However, when I simply type and a little web-bot collects bits of my history that I don’t notice, it’s easy to forget about the interference that is happening. If a tree falls in the woods–or rather, if a web spider crawls around–and no one sees it, does it make a sound? Because people don’t notice these little bits of privacy being chipped away, it doesn’t hurt as much. At the end though, you are missing a piece of you. Small pieces amount to a lot over time.

If privacy is a right, like equality and freedom, those rights have been hard fought (and often not won). To vote, you are supposed to be educated and informed on the candidates and the government policies. How many people have read the privacy policy of the phone company, workplace, or email provider? This right won’t be, and cannot be, handed to us–it must be won. We cannot act shocked and appalled without action after. There needs to be ownership of a right in order for it to become yours.

I open the floor to you.


6 thoughts on “The right to privacy.

  1. So my feelings on this are all over the place, and first of all thank you for choosing to blog on this. I have been wondering, during most of this program actually, why we aren’t more fiercely protective of our privacy. You are absolutely right, we don’t ‘see’ it as much when were online. Plus, the internet has done AMAZING things for our lives. Look at all the ways the internet has made our lives easier, more informed, more connected with people we love. Eh, so what if a ‘little’ privacy about me is lost somewhere in some server farm.
    A few things I’ve picked up along the way in MACT. For Dr. Curry’s class in the summer my final paper was on Facebook and privacy, and the research I unearthed showed good evidence that youth, 18-25ish, are very, very aware of their privacy, more so than the digital immigrants. So, the tide may change slowly on privacy as a human right. Second, for the final video my topic is on crowdsourcing gov’t and I picked up a little nugget about Iceland’s constitutional crowdsourcing project whereby they got some international advice to include ‘genome’ protection under their charter of rights and freedoms. Companies/services like 23 and Me are becoming all too popular and who/what will protect our right to genetic information about ourselves? I’ve barely ever thought about that angle on privacy. However, it’s emerging and I think is another example of how we as a society haven’t even wrapped our heads around the future implications of our personal privacy. I do think it will take more instances of people’s individual privacy being tampered with for ‘groundswell’ change to happen.
    The end.

  2. Gillian, awesome post. Over the last 6 months or so in taking MACT courses my eyes have been opened to many privacy concerns. I like the way you phrased that our privacy is being “chipped away”. It really is “out of sight, out of mind” for many of us. I’m really curious as to when a story will blow up in the popular media about an average civilian whose life has been changed forever from loss of privacy, specifically from private data collected by the government. Scary stuff.

  3. KateM

    Great analysis by way of a personal story – that is often how we tweak to some of life’s more important things, isn’t it – through a personal moment – seemingly unimportant and yet… it gets us thinking. Smart reference to Article 12. Good work!

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