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In defense of Privacy

Recently I heard a pernicious argument, namely that privacy does not exist and the notion of it should be abolished. The person who said this argued that hundreds of thousands of people are dying every year because of a false notion of privacy. To him, this conclusion is based on privacy concerns related to medical information, and that if there were no privacy, then everyone’s medical records would be open to scientists, thereby somehow leading to medical discoveries that would save lives.

This is notion, that somehow anyone who expects privacy is indirectly responsible for people dying, is meant to make us feel guilty enough to agree that we should have no privacy at all. But I take issue with this!

I proposed that “privacy itself is a good thing, which we all benefit from,” but this fellow refused to hear it, saying that privacy is just a form of belief, the same as Mormonism.

“If privacy does not exist, would you want people to just walk into your back yard garden and set up tents for camping?” I asked.


“You are arguing from a metaphor,” he said dismissively.

But what worried me is that some others began to agree with him, because of the medical transparency issue. But I must say that the whole argument is wrong!   Transparency of our medical records would only be beneficial to all of us if we benefit equally from the results. As it is, without any national or in any way equally distributed health care system, the benefits only accrue to the profit-making medical industry and to the rich who can afford the results.

Unfortunately, this incident gave me further pause to reflect on privacy. I am suspicious that elitist interests (such as the Koch Brothers, the Carlyle Group, the financial gangsters) have now fixed on the need to eradicate privacy as a cause célèbre.  This is curious.  Surely they are not turning into communists, wanting the benefits of everyone in society as a whole to be held above the individual’s rights. This goes directly against their libertarian grain. No, there must be something more insidious to this new attack on privacy…keeping in mind that Internet Privacy is also under continuous attack in the legislature.    There must be something more purposive behind an attack on the very notion of privacy, at once to destroy it as “right to privacy,” and to declare that it is a myth which doesn’t exist.

Might it not be, in fact, that the ruling class want to deliberately erode the notion of privacy, because it is inextricably linked to Liberty?  That is to say, the freedom of an individual to be left alone in their own pursuits, by default, _demands _a great degree of privacy, does it not?  To eradicate privacy is to instantiate the panopticon, the police state, and strips away the most basic veil of self-protection that we have for our individual freedom.

Yet, in the rotten nut-meat that passes for brains among the self-anointed elite, the destruction of privacy is a desirable outcome.  Because, naturally, it assumes that THEY will be doing the watching, and THEY will decide whose privacy and liberty are being abolished, but it could never apply to THEM.  Drunk with power, the elite could not imagine that their own privacy would also be abolished.   How else could any sane human being deny the basic good that derives from privacy?

There is a rather excellent post on REDDIT that sums up the benefits of privacy

• Privacy is freedom

• Invading a person’s privacy can give you access to information about them which you can then use against them, even if that information is not objectively illegal, immoral or unethical

• Privacy is not the same as secrecy. In other words, privacy is not necessarily about hiding bad things.

• The people doing the violation of privacy are not infallible. They are human beings, and as such are liable to corruption. “Who watches the watchmen?”

• The invasion of privacy causes psychological distress. If invasion of privacy is accepted as standard, mass decline in public’s mental well-being will follow.

• A democracy is based (as least in theory) on the government serving the people. If the people want privacy, the government has to grant them privacy.

• Denying privacy hampers free speech, as people may not want to voice unpopular opinions if they know they are constantly being monitored. It also restricts creativity for similar reasons.

• The loss of privacy is tantamount to losing one’s identity, as one is no longer to hold the beliefs or behave in a way consistent with their true selves.

How true these points are.

There is also a rather good essay by Bruce Schnier, The Eternal Value of Privacy:

Those who would strip away our basic right to privacy are not some benificent angels, trying to heal us…what a preposterous notion!

Better to keep in mind what J.S.Mill had to say about Society and the Individual in On Liberty: “The strongest argument against public interference with purely personal conduct is that, when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place.”