Monday, 17 January 2011

SUMMER SECONDS: Some propositions on the “right” to privacy

Summer. Time to relax, unwind, and take out classic articles from the archives for a second time around. Here’s one from 2009 . . .

People talk about there being a “right to privacy.” But does such a thing exist, or is is the promotion of this “right” above all others merely a convenient means by which to obliterate more genuine rights? Let’s get a few thoughts going on this so-called “right.” Here’s 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

“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

Discuss—especially with reference to the difference between goods and rights.


  1. You are framing the debate by using a false dichotomy (good v right) IMHO.
    Privacy is a CONDITION that follows from, and is contingent upon, the fundamental individual rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with their subsidiary of property).
    Privacy is thus supported and guarded by the fundamental rights, but it is also limited by them, insofar as privacy may be abused to interfere with the fundamental rights of others. The boundaries of privacy are thus determined through a balancing exercise between competing individual rights, whereby the government has no other role than the protection of individual rights. Individual cases must be considered in the light of these parameters.


  2. The "right to" privacy, like other bogus non-right rights invented in the 20th century, is a demand to impose force on someone else. If you do business with a bank or doctor, then your contract with that party should clearly describe what they may and may not do with the information you provide them or they gather as part of the business relationship.

    It is not up to special interest groups to popularize a new "right" to the electorate, who votes in a new legislature who passes a big new law which authorizes the creation of a new regulatory agency to write huge new books of regulations to coerce banks and doctors and others into using or not using information about you.


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