Can We Have A Little Privacy, Please!
What does privacy have to do with freedom and a voluntary community? Its all about freedom of association.
We all have the right to choose who we spend our time with, who we share our thoughts with, and who we entrust with our deepest, darkest secrets.
We also have the right to avoid the people we don’t like, limit the things we share with others, and to keep our most intimate personal thoughts to ourselves, if we want.
What If Every Thought Were Broadcast Publicly?
Its easy to imagine a Steven Spielberg summer blockbuster about a dystopian future in which every thought of every person was immediately broadcast to the entire world. Although not as extreme, we see over and over again what a lack of privacy does to child actors and adult superstars alike. Lack of privacy is a lack of autonomy.
Privacy is important. There are some things you share with a spouse that you would not share with your grocer, and maybe a few things you would share with your grocer but not with your spouse.
But total privacy isn’t the goal either. Everyone needs to have strong relationships of trust with their spouse, family and closest friends where personal thoughts are shared in confidence. We might all start arguing with sporting equipment like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway without those confidential relationships.
Control What Private Information Becomes Public
Privacy is about controlling what, how, when, where and with whom we share information about ourselves. Everyone will control their own privacy differently. While some people make a career out of being the tabloid cover story, others prefer a low profile.
Hollywood socialite or not, everyone needs at least some private space that is for them and them alone. Even most democracies with secret ballots acknowledge that privacy is necessary for autonomy and freedom, even at the expense of verification and fraud prevention.
Having to share information against our will is a form of coercion and control. Even if no action is taken, a threat of action is enough to shape behavior. That coercion and control is the opposite of freedom, voluntary choice and autonomy.
The rate of income tax compliance in the US is one example of this principle. When third parties report information about a taxpayer automatically, the rate of compliance goes up because the threat of action increases, even though only a small number of returns are audited each year.
Like a lot of other rights, freedom of association and privacy are not handed over freely. It takes work and effort to safeguard those rights.
Is Privacy Dead?
Is there such a thing as privacy anymore? Isn’t it basically impossible to have any form of privacy when so much personal information is so readily available? And even if it is possible, isn’t it so expensive and difficult that it is not really practical anyways, so shouldn’t we just kiss our privacy goodbye and face the facts of living in this Brave New World?
Of course not. Next time I will show you why. If you can’t wait until next time, check out HowToVanish.com for some simple and practical tips to protect your privacy.
Bill Rounds will be speaking at Libertopia Festival 2011 in San Diego