Privacy is not only about preventing access to some information to those who have no need to know it; it is also about keeping things in the proper context because some actions that are perfectly legal in one context may be illegal in another context. It is perfectly legal and appropriate for one to urinate in a private restroom, or to have sex with one’s spouse in private, but the same acts in public are not. Privacy and confidentiality are essential to the conduct of commerce; Western society would collapse without them.
Every individual and company has to protect the confidentiality of its competitive developments (hence the legally protected notion of ‘proprietary’ information) from competitors or may face economic collapse. We do not paste the content of our regular correspondence or personal diaries on our windows for the benefit of passers-by and policemen, and we do not publicize our credit card numbers. We expect full anonymity and privacy when we pay with cash to buy underwear at the mall, or a ticket to a show, or a book at the bookstore. It is perfectly legal (and perhaps highly advisable) to go to a different nearby town’s store if one is the local pastor wanting to buy a book extol ling the virtues of another religion.
The quest for privacy does not imply wrongdoing at all. The presumption that ‘the only reason one may want to keep information and activities private is because such information or activities are incriminating’ is factually false.
- There are many activities, such as visiting the restroom or engaging in conjugal relations, that civilized individuals want to keep to themselves.
- Civilized individuals invariably have things they do not care to share with others, such as whether or not they dye their hair, which medications they have been prescribed, a funny mole on their behind, the content of their love letters to their spouses, and so on. This does not imply any wrongdoing. All individuals form hierarchies of privacy: some things are shared only with family, other things with close friends, other things with one’s medical doctor, and still other things (if any) with total strangers. None of these conventions has anything to do with wrongdoing.
- In most civilized societies, the privacy and confidentiality of many individual activities has long had the benefit of legal protection – often perhaps to the annoyance of some in law enforcement. Such activities include consultations with one’s attorney, confessions to a priest, and some consultations with mental health professionals.
Every individual has the right and indeed the obligation to protect himself or herself from such obvious illegal acts as credit card fraud, identity theft, and the like, or be denied insurance coverage for losses due to failure to take adequate precautions. Since what has to be protected is information, rather than objects, hiding the information is the only way to obtain such protection.