One of the most abused and least exercised of human rights is the right to privacy.
This fundamental freedom is slowly being etched away by the constant encroachment from government and corporate entities, countless databases with personal information and questionable security, as well as our own unwillingness to take a stand against this abuse.
This article presents a brief explanation to freedom lovers of the philosophical concept of privacy, our rights as human beings, and what we can do to exercise them.
What is Privacy?
Privacy as a philosophical concept is broad and complex. It covers everything from the difference between public and private life, to autonomous self regulation.
Privacy as defined by the Random House Dictionary is defined as: “the state of being free from the intrusion or disturbance in ones private life or affairs.”
Although considered synonymous with secrecy, privacy usually relates to living outside of public life or political work where the details of one’s day to day life can be observed by everyone.
While the term privacy means different things to different people, the concept of privacy is usually a personal concern, one that cannot be determined for one individual by another.
This concept of privacy extends to individuals and groups alike, and usually includes other sub-concepts such as personal security or the protection and appropriate use of information.
Although various cultures throughout history have demonstrated methods to protect privacy through concealment, seclusion, and restriction of information or property, the right to privacy as understood by Western civilization sets our culture and society apart from the rest of the world.
Legal Recognition of the Right to Privacy
The right to privacy is recognized in many countries as a fundamental human right, particularly in the West. In fact, the importance of privacy to European nations as well as those in North America is one of the primary distinguishing characteristics of Western social norms.
Therefore, many of these western governments have recognized the importance of protecting privacy rights from intrusion by government and other entities, as well as drawing the line between where one individual’s privacy rights begin, and another one’s ends. This recognition can be seen in the various laws, regulations, and treaties drafted and signed by members of these societies.
For instance, in the United States, freedom from government intrusion is the basis for many of the rights, also known as the “bill of Rights” which make up the first ten amendments to the Constitution.
The fourth amendment, relating to an individual’s right to privacy states:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The United Nations also recognized the right to privacy in 1948 when the General Assembly signed an agreement known as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document recognized all rights and freedoms that are considered unalienable as a member of the human race.
Article 12 of the declaration relates to the right to privacy, which states:
“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
The UN also recognizes this right in Article 17 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, or to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation.
- Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Areas of Privacy
Privacy is usually broken down into two subgroups: information privacy and physical security.
Information privacy is the right to control access to sensitive or personal information that may be trademarked, confidential, or embarrassing to the owner of such information. This information in the wrong hands may allow for criminal or terrorist activities such as financial fraud, blackmail, or physical assault.
Physical security falls under privacy from the right to lock and secure personal possession such as your car, home, or office without fear of intrusion from government or criminal entities attempting to steal your property.
However, the line between information privacy and physical security is blurry, and may be considered by most to be one and the same. This again shows how large and complex the concept of privacy rights can be when including self regulation of personal security as well as concern with how information is stored, transferred, and used by an organization or individual.
More specific privacy rights can include:
Medical privacy which is overseen by organizations such as HIPAA in the United States protects patients’ medical insurance information. Patient/doctor confidentiality is often considered one of the basic forms of medical privacy.
Financial privacy allows a person to conceal confidential financial information such as bank account numbers, account balances, and passwords to prevent possible financial fraud or identity theft. Financial privacy can also include information concerning personal income, debts, and credit ratings, although depending on your country’s laws, much of this is may be available to government for tax purposes.
Personal privacy, which can also include physical security, could be as simple as closing the blinds in your house, and allowing one to pursue their own interests and business without the prying eyes of the public, or government. Physical privacy may be a matter of cultural sensitivity, personal dignity, or shyness. There may also be concerns about safety, or becoming a victim of a crime such as robbery or stalking.
Securing Your Privacy Rights
The best way to secure one’s rights is to take advantage of them at all times. If you have an opportunity to be private about a transaction then do so. Supporting human rights organizations that focus on the right to privacy is another way to voice your concerns for the encroachment of government, corporate organizations, and criminal entities on your right to self regulation, physical security, and protection of information vital to being a free and independent member of the human race.