The Right to Privacy

Privacy is understood as:

  • The state or condition of being free from being observed or disturbed by other people
  • The state of being free from public attention

"Being watched" alters one's behavior. The right to privacy is the freedom from being watched.

But not everyone is a fan of privacy. Here's Richard Posner, a federal judge:

"As a social good, I think privacy is greatly overrated because privacy basically means concealment. People conceal things in order to fool other people about them. They want to appear healthier than they are, smarter, more honest and so forth."

Posner neglects to mention that people may conceal their talents and accomplishments because they are too humble to boast. Is that also "fooling" other people?

In fact, "concealing" private information is NOT intended to "fool" others. It's just an unwillingness to reveal non-pertinent information about you, whether bad OR good. Most of the time, this is simply good manners.

Posner observes, however, that many people are willing to give up their privacy for convenience. We see this with online shopping profiles and social networks, not to mention reality tv. Declan McCullagh has observed this as well.

And yet McCullagh recognizes the VOLUNTARY nature of these arrangements, and that's the key.

Yes, some people don't value their privacy as do others. That's their right.

The right to privacy includes the freedom to give it up if one so chooses, just as the right to property means the freedom to give it away. These are VOLUNTARY actions.

But it is CRIMINAL for others to invade your property OR your privacy. That's why there are laws against burglary and voyeurism.

And it is TYRANNICAL when The State invades and steals your property and privacy.

That's why there was once was, and should be again, a standard of probable cause and court-issued search warrants before the government can monitor your online activities.

The right to privacy allows peaceful, non-aggressive action without public scorn or judgment. It gives a person the range to explore and develop one's own individuality.

Posner has the right to his personal opinion that privacy is "overrated."

But as a jurist, I hope Posner understands that the RIGHT to privacy these days is underrated.