Privacy vs. Right to Privacy

My warm thanks to both Walter and David for their comments on privacy. We need such discussion and thought. I’m not going to add anything at this time to my earlier comments based on their comments. Sorry to disappoint anyone, but there will be no debate coming from me and point by point response, and the reason is that I have never found such back-and-forths productive. Instead, I’ll write a bigger article on privacy — when is anyone’s guess. I did have a few more thoughts on privacy that come next.

I think that human beings need certain things that go beyond such needs as food, shelter, space to move around in, clothing and such. We need acceptance, love, communication, self-expression, work, friendship, and a good deal more in order to function properly as human beings. We do not  have a “right” to love or a “right” to communication, but we still need them. Privacy may be something akin to things like that, something we need but not something we are necessarily obliged to say that we have a right to in order to defend our need for it and defend against government actions that undermine our getting it or holding on to what we have. Privacy can be under attack or threatened by government whether or not there is a right to privacy and whether or not the latter right, however defined, is under attack. Privacy also is something that’s multifaceted, and privacy’s dimensions need to be spelled out too if we are to understand what the problems are with the government actions that we claim are destroying privacy.  I don’t mean to limit the discussion to government either. The press or other people can discover intimate details about one’s life. They can destroy a person’s career, standing, reputation and livelihood. They can bring great unhappiness. They can pressure and blackmail someone. There are cases of people committing suicide when their private lives were revealed after stealth videos were made. I have never agreed with the eminent Murray Rothbard’s positions on libel, slander and blackmail. This only means that in my preferred society, which will almost surely differ from that of the reader, I’d want others in my society to find ways to chastise such behavior and lower its incidence. For me, there doesn’t have to be a libertarian path or analysis that brings me to my preferred ethics and my ideas of what is right and what is wrong; and in many important instances, there is no such analysis because libertarianism is a political philosophy, not a complete guide to life. The tongue and what we say is often a source of great woe (and to the speaker too) even when there is no physical aggression. There’s an old saying to the effect that “A blow is forgotten, but a word is never forgotten.” This contradicts “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” That little chant is designed to bolster the person who has been hurt by being called a name.

UPDATE: I had not read John Keller’s posting here on “The Need for Privacy” when I wrote and posted mine. He arrived at the same idea that I did, which is that we can need things to be essentially human without there necessarily being a right to them.


12:51 pm on December 14, 2012