Some propositions on privacy -- does a 'right to privacy' exist?

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Fri, 2009-07-31 00:37

Let’s get some thoughts going on the “right to privacy.” Here are a few to start you off.

“An issue such as ‘the invasion of privacy’ cannot be discussed without a clear definition of the right to privacy, and this cannot be discussed outside the context of clearly defined and upheld individual rights.”
- Ayn Rand

“Privacy: it’s a good, not a right. It’s not something to be recognised, it’s something to be earned.”
- PC

“Yes, we each of us need privacy. But our need for something is not a claim on someone else.”
- PC

“Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.”
- Ayn Rand

“Social democrats are collectivists of the first order. For them society is a large beehive or ant colony, and they are convinced that they have landed the job of managing it. It is a bit ironic, actually, since it is usually social democrats who champion ‘the right of privacy.’ Apart from that, though, liberal democrats do not acknowledge the existence of individual rights. Most of all, they are nearly unanimous in denying private property rights. . . these people dogmatically assume that "the wealth of the country" is for them to use and dispose of as they see proper. Individuals have no rights to their resources, income or wealth, especially not those individuals who have plenty of them.”
- Tibor Machan

“Does a human being have the right to privacy? Well, is human nature such that in their community lives people require their own realm of authority, their own sovereignty—self-government—with respect of various aspects of their lives? Of course they do—that’s what being a responsible moral agent amounts to. So the right to privacy exists. It stands as a bulwark against meddlesome other people, especially governments.”
- Tibor Machan

“Philosophically speaking, however, there is no contradiction between a ‘right of liberty’ and any ‘right of privacy.’ And neither of these rights is possible without private property rights. . . The ‘right of privacy’ is, fundamentally, an expression of the right of private property.”
- Chris Sciabarra

“Privacy is a good -- like food, music, or love. So while we have the right to take the actions required to secure our privacy via judicious use of our property and voluntary contracts with others, we have no direct right to privacy per se. . . Laws designed to protect privacy undermine genuine rights to property and contract.”
- Amy Peikoff

“The ‘right to privacy’ is a misguided attempt to save some shreds of certain [legitimate] rights while retaining a way to eviscerate others.”
- Arline Mann

There's more than enough there to get you started. So how about it: does a 'right to privacy' exist?

I don't believe that the expectation of privacy...

Robert's picture

... is either reasonable. In fact, it is entirely insane to expect that every other human being on the planet will respect your privacy.

Unless you defend it like you would any other possession that is.

For instance:

Shred unwanted documents and arrange to have them destroyed by a private company.
Install curtains on your windows and sun shades/sun umbrellas/fences so that you can sun bathe nude if that's your thing (Google Earth doesn't have X-Ray vision).
Install door locks and burglar alarms to prevent people from planting web-cams and such
Encrypt your sensitive electronic documents and keep the paper ones in a safe or safety deposit box.
Don't fill out surveys - including the census! All you have to do in the US to comply with the Constitution is tell the Census taker how many people live in your home. That's it!.
Pick your friends carefully.
Pick the businesses you do business with carefully. Don't want junk mail? Foreswear Credit cards and pay in cash. Cash = anonymity.
Don't want to get photographed topless? Don't record your sexcapades on Video. Wear a bathing suit at the beach. Get drunk at home!
And most importantly: if you don't want people to overhear you: TALK QUIETLY!

Expecting people to ignore what they hear and see while going about their public or private business in public is insane!

But if you follow these simple rules and your secrets get revealed then the reason is due to an act of force (trespass) or fraud. In the recent case of the Celebrity ESPN anchor who was secretly filmed naked in a hotel room. The transgression isn't one of invasion of privacy. It is trespass on the part of the person who planted the camera and broken contract on the part of the hotel. Their bargain with the customer is to provide a safe place of shelter in exchange for cash. Obviously they failed in that regard.

no there isn't

VSD's picture

no there isn't
otherwise the state would continually break this law every day (which is actually the point where they require my cooperation/sanction for their evil deeds - so that right to be left alone would come in quite handy Eye)
btw: what about that bloke who knocked on my door yesterday to ask for directions to a different adress?
... can i sue them Evil

There is no ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

There is no right to privacy; there is a right to be left alone.

I had been struggling with this concept for a while now...

Marcus's picture

...and I think Peter et al have put their finger on it.

Privacy is a good to purchase, not a right. No more than a house or a job is a right.

There is one point however that sort of confuses the issue.

The 'right to privacy' is often mixed up with the 'right to private property.'

In other words the right for you to own and dispense with your own property as you see fit (as long as you do not violate anyone else's right to do so).

For example, the media will often frame the debate over whether you can surf the net without being monitored by the Government as a 'right to privacy' issue, rather than one of a 'property rights' violation.

To deny 'right to privacy' looks as if you are sanctioning the Government to spy on you even when you are not a criminal.

The general public will unfortunately not understand that such a breach would violate your right to life and property.

Therefore to deny a 'right to privacy' exists can only be done with a lot of qualification and explanation.

I have a vague understanding

Luke H's picture

I have a vague understanding that there is a common-law expectation to privacy on your own property - so even if it is perfectly possible to take photographs of people through the windows of their house with a big telephoto lens, you can't publish those pictures because the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

I guess that's complicated by the proliferation of satellite technology (Google Maps / Streetview) and high-quality zoom lenses on cheap digital cameras.

On the other hand, I remember agreeing with one comment on the 'loss' of hundreds of thousands of medical records in the UK. The media were in a huge kerfuffle about the 'breach of privacy' that losing the records represented. But actually, how boring are medical records? If you left a huge pile of medical records at a bus stop people would ignore them. The only possible titillation would be discovering your best friend or ex or a celebrity had been treated for an STD - and how childish is that? For the vast majority of people, the publication of their complete medical history would mean almost nothing.

It's easy to make too much of the 'loss of privacy' in a culture of fear (as in the UK) - fear that drives political support for more control (ID cards and so on).

It's not an injustice to

reed's picture

It's not an injustice to reveal something true about someone else.

There should be no right to privacy - except by contract.

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