User:Talrias/Articles in progress/Privacy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Privacy is the state of being free from unwanted intrusion, being closely related to anonymity. The level of privacy which a person desires to have depends on the circumstances, as there are different types of privacy. The right against unsanctioned intrusion of privacy by the government, corporations or individuals is part of many countries' laws, and in some cases, constitutions (see privacy laws). Privacy may be voluntarily sacrificed, in exchange for certain benefits, or for no benefit at all. An example of this is entering a competition; a person gives personal details (often for advertising purposes), so they have a chance of winning a prize.

Reasons for maintaining privacy[edit]

Keeping information from others is one of the main ways to maintain privacy. Information may be withheld because the person may be uncomfortable with others knowing (for example, homosexuals may be stigmatised by their peers), or because it is illegal (criminals hide information from law enforcement to lower the risk of being caught). Locking the door when a person is having a shower or using the toilet, or having seperate changing rooms for each sex, is done to prevent embarrassment and protect modesty.

Political privacy[edit]

Main article: Political privacy

People may wish to keep their political viewpoints secret for a variety of reasons - as the holder of a political position potentially has a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, it is possible to punish those who disagree with them. In the past, political opponents of various dictators have been tortured or killed for their political views. The secret ballot, which is common in democratic elections worldwide, maintains political privacy to prevent any discrimination against people who did not vote for the office-holder.

Outing of individuals can be done for two reasons; either as a negative campaigning tactic designed to lower the outed person's reputation, or by others of a similar sexual orientation who seek openness over privacy. Both are done for political purposes.

Medical privacy[edit]

Main article: Medical privacy

Information concerning a person's health is kept confidential to the patient. The patient must grant access before anyone else may view the information. The reasons for keeping medical information private may include possible discrimination against people with a certain medical condition. However, it may be illegal to fail to disclose medical information in certain cases (for example, in the United Kingdom in 2001, Stephen Kelly was found guilty of "culpable and reckless" conduct for failing to tell his girlfriend he was HIV-positive before having unprotected sex with her [1]).

Privacy from government interference[edit]

Governments in many countries are given powers to breach privacy. This is often due to criminal investigations, where police are permitted to seize private property from a suspect's house. Telephone tapping, where all information being transmitted over a phone line is secretly monitored, is often permissible in court where it is used to secure convictions against criminals. However, numerous cases have been overturned in the United States because the wiretap was not legally allowed. Other ways to monitor people include closed-circuit television cameras, which are placed in public.

The ability for the government to monitor communications, whether permitted by law or not, is a common debate. Organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that the right to privacy is an inalienable human right and that it is up to the person whether they should have to disclose information. Other groups, including government agencies like the National Security Agency, maintain that being able to monitor all communications aids in the prevention of criminal activity and terrorism.

However, since the September 11, 2001 attacks and the "war on terrorism" declared by the Republican United States government, the right to privacy has been legislated against with the introduction of bills such as the Patriot Act, and new government organisations such as the United States Department of Homeland Security, and the controversial Information Awareness Office (which had all funding cut due to protests by the public and the United States Senate). The Labour United Kingdom government introduced a bill requiring all citizens to carry an identity card. Labour have suggested that if they are returned to power after the United Kingdom general election of 2005, they will introduce ID cards. As of 2005, the right to privacy remains an important political debate in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries.

Arguments for government monitoring[edit]

  • Increased crime detection - due to the placement of CCTV cameras, the success rate of conviction is increased as criminals are more likely to be convicted due to the increased ability to prove a suspect committed an offence.
  • Prevention of terrorism - terrorist activities need coordination and this is often done using electronic equipment. If communications between devices can be monitored, the activities of terrorists can be prevented before any terrorist attacks are carried out.

Arguments against government monitoring[edit]

  • Surveillance infringes on civil liberties - there is a lack of anonymity if facial recognition systems can be used, for example, to identify protestors in a demonstration.
  • CCTV cameras displace crime, rather than eliminate it - criminals move to areas where CCTV is not in place.

Privacy laws[edit]

Main article: Civil liberties

Laws protecting people's privacy are classed as civil liberties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in article 12, states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Most countries have laws protecting people's privacy. In some countries this is part of their constitution, such as the United States Bill of Rights, and France's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. If the privacy of an individual is breached, the individual may bring a lawsuit asking for monetary damages. However, in the United Kingdom, recent cases involving celebrities such as David Beckham, however, have resulted in defeat as the information has been determined in the courts to be in the public interest[2].

The Supreme Court of the United States has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against government intrusion, in various civil liberties cases, such as Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) (which allowed parents/guardians to educate their children) Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) (which explicitly recognised the right to privacy), Roe v. Wade (1973) (which prevented states from legislating against abortion) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003) (which prevented states from legislating against sodomy). As the Constitution does not explicitly grant a right to privacy, this issue is hotly debated - strict constructionists argue that there is no such right, while civil libertarians argue that the right invalidates many types of survelliance, such as CCTV cameras and wiretaps.

Most states in the U.S. grant a right to privacy and recognise four torts:

  1. Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
  2. Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
  3. Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
  4. Appropriation of name or likeness.

Organisations such as Privacy International, a London-based non-governmental organisation formed in 1990, exist as a watchdog on survelliance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Landmark Aids case begins in Scotland, from BBC News (retrieved 26 April, 2005).
  2. ^ Does Beckham judgement change rules?, from BBC News (retrieved 27 April, 2005).

Further reading[edit]

  • Dennis Bailey, Open Society Paradox: Why The Twenty-first Century Calls For More Openness--not Less, Brasseys Inc (November, 2004), hardcover, 224 pages, ISBN 1574889168
  • Robert O Harrow, No Place To Hide: Behind The Scenes Of Our Emerging Surveillance Society, Free Press or Simon and Schuster (January, 2005), hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 0743254805

External links[edit]

de:Privacy ja:プライバシー pt:Privacidade zh:隐私权

Category:Core issues in ethics Category:Law Category:Human rights