11 January 2007

Privacy - is it a right?

So, I'm hoping to start some discussion with this one. I'd like to hear what people have to say on this topic. Some background, recently in Toronto, the police placed some cameras along a section of Yonge St. in effort to curb a recent increase in violent crimes. Just last week, they were decommissioned citing invasion of privacy. Most people want the cameras back, considering public safety more important than public privacy (now that's an oxymoron if I've ever heard one). Other's fear the "Big Brother" and want them taken down.

Here's an obersation or two. The street already has many other cameras, all focused on the street by the stores themselves in an effort to catch theives. No one has a problem with them. No one cares that the stores can do whatever they want with these cameras. Yet when the police, a governed and controlled institution wants to do the same, people are worried about misuse. Yeah.... ok. Enough said about that.

My main question is in regards to this idea of privacy. Where did this come from? And why is it so very important? Why in the world do you need privacy in a public place? When anyone can take whatever pictures they want in public, film whatever films they want, record whatever sounds they want, all fully legal because the location is public. You can't take camcorders into a cinema because it is private property, not public. But you can take out your camcorder in the park because it is public. What are people so very afraid of in public? That someone might see them? As if they sincerely hope to walk down a street with a couple thousand other people and not be seen (the scary fact being that this is entirely possible). But the thing is that you are in public, you can be seen, and others actually have the right to see you when you are in public. Imagine the driver of a car not having the right to see a pedestrian crossing the road. Oh my, now he must violate someone elses rights in order to see them and thus not strike them while they are crossing the road. Come on, get a brain. What is public is public, for all to see, including some cops sitting in a room watching video feeds from a few hundred cameras. As if they might see something of yours that is private while you are in public. Mind you, if you are revealing something private while in public, you have other problems to discuss.

So, this leads us to the definition of privacy. It seems that the definition has changed dramatically over the years. A quick search of dictionary definitions will reveal the most common definition is: 1. the state of being private, in retirement or seclusion; 2. the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs. Another definition which I found interesting what this one: a state of being let alone and able to keep certain esp. personal matters to oneself.

It seems to me, that privacy has become very egotistical. Let me explain. If we look plainly on privacy, it is to keep certain things from the view of others. For instance we go the to privy, so that others don't have to see us squatting and shitting in a gutter at the side of the road. We seek privacy not so much for our benifit (really, who wants to lock themselves in a glorified closet to keep all that wonderful smell to our selves, jealously guarding it as not to share with others, we will even go so far as to mask the odour before we let others into the closet so that they will not have a sample of how glorious our emitted odours can be) but for the benifit of others. We are protecting others from our ugly side. We clothe ourselves to hide the unseemly parts that may not be as nice other peoples parts. We seek seclusion for the sake of others. But somewhere along the line, we got the idea that privacy was not for the benifit of others, but for our own benifit, and thus it became egotistical. For our own benifit, we needed privacy to hide what we are ashamed of, so that the only sign of the existance of any such thing is our shame. No one will ever see or know what we are ashamed of, but unless we are especially good, they will only see that we are ashamed. We also seek our privacy to hide things we know we should not do. We don't want people to know about our sin, our fetish, our addiction. So we hide it where we wrongly think that if no one can see it, it doesn't hurt anyone. But you are hurting yourself, and by being someone who is self destructive you put others into danger as well. You learn to live with a guilty concience, and thus lose your ability to diferentiate wrong from right. Your moral capacity is compromised.

Anyhow, something happened along the way, and people have gotten ahold of the idea that privacy is a right to my own benefit, when privacy is a right to the benefit of others. When taken that way, I will gladly surrender my privacy when the benefit of others is at stake. I will surrender my privacy and allow my personal belongings to be searched when there is a fear and threat of some terrorist attack. When in public, I will conduct myself in such a way that I need not fear who sees. When in private, I will continue to conduct myself in such a way that I need not fear what others may see, should they be invading my privacy.

This idea of me having to right not to have my privacy disturbed or intruded upon seems ubsurd to me. I have privacy, my own space to relax and let loose, but so what if that is intruded upon. Oh no, someone saw me! Not my facade or my mask, me the real me. Oh heavens, what shall I do now? Get real. We have privacy, we are not like cattle that have to share the same barn, we are not fish stuck in the same aquarium. We have homes, we have our own rooms. We choose to share these or not to. There are places in the world where most people do not have even these basic forms of privacy. But please get real, privacy as a right?

In my mind, privacy is a convienence, a commodity, maybe even a luxury. But we can live without it. Some can even live quite well without it. What makes it a right? Since when do I have the right to hide my sin, my evil, my crime?

Ok, lets add the disclaimer now: all of the above could be viewed as conjecture. It could be viewed as the lunatic rantings of someone who has been off their rocker for far too long. It could be viewed as overreactionary and extreme. It could also be viewed as drivel not fit for public viewing (should have been kept private?). There's a lot to that could be done with this, so why don't you begin by adding your two cents? What do you think about privacy?


Anonymous said...

Some interesting thoughts there Dave. I had never thought of the privy - privacy comparison but clearly there is a connection. I think it is interesting how private we are publicly but how open we are online. It used to be commonplace when I was growing up to go visit a friend's house unannounced but now I wonder if people will be offended. Yet on the other hand - people are very willing to disclose almost anything on a blog or on myspace.

Clearly with our willingness to share our thoughts online we don't have the same concern for privacy as some people do. I as a teacher - am very open & honest about who I am in the classroom and I think I am more effective as a result. The more connections we are willing to make with people - the easier it is to communicate truth.

An evangelistic tract is an invasion of privacy it seems whereas a conversation about spirituality in a Starbuck's is perfectly acceptable.

Dave said...

It is interesting how the rules of privacy have been changing. Like you said, dropping in unannounced was once a very pleasant surprise. Now, we think not only twice, but more often we think three times then decide not to even call and see if we could drop in. Not only do we worry about offending more than before, people are offended a lot more than before. Not hurt, not wronged, but simply annoyed enough to be offended. Since when has an inconvience been a sin?

The openess we show online is also a recently developing trend. I'm still not sure what to think about it, are people being honest, or feigning honesty?

Garth said...

Hey - the irony of your first reply was that it was posted anonymously by me. I must have been at work and not logged into blogger - weird!

One other thing I've noticed from my classroom experience is how willingly people disclose personal information in that particular setting. It seems to be in start contrast to the privacy we want in our homes.

I think reality television is basically voyeuristic in nature - people watching living out what they would love to be doing. I mean who wouldn't want to be a castaway on an island with a one in twenty odds of winning a million dollars?!

Dave said...

As you may have noticed, I changed the layout of the blog. I think that in making the change, some of the settings were cleared, including your identity in the first comment. Sorry about that.

Privacy is an interesting issue, the more I think about it, it seems that privacy should be considered a priviledge or a luxury, not a right. When viewed that way, we may appreciate it more. The more we appreciate it, the less we will dare to throw it out and make it cheap.

skindleshanks said...

In some Asian cultures (China and Korea are the ones in which i have experience) the concept of privacy implies that something covert, indecent, or immoral is being performed. If one insists on theri "right" to privacy, it is automatically assumed that they are involved in something that they ought to be ashamed of.