Privacy – it’s not what you think…

HackerBeen at NetHui for the last couple of days now and privacy seems to be the buzzword of choice here. A delegate at the event, @TersoIT, spoke quite eloquently about the subject and I thought it was worth a bit more discussion. He pointed out that the concept of privacy was a mere flash in the pan, when we lived in small villages everyone knew everyone else’s business anyway. It has only been since the industrial age that the need for privacy has come about. If we are living in cities full of millions of people, we tend to not want to broadcast everything. He then pointed out that the change in the world, brought on by the internet, has reduced us to a village again, and that the need for privacy is no more.

@JCELaw, who was regulating the session argued that those that “claim” to not be worried about privacy would sing a different tune if you asked about their mother’s mental illness or their sex life with their ex-partner.

I think that that is a bit of a red herring. There is obviously a spectrum to what we consider privacy. Obviously what someone thinks should be private, juxtaposed to what the society they live in thinks should be private, comes into play.

The real discussion here is what we, as a society, considers an acceptable bottom line. What we, collectively, accept as a true intrusion, or can merely brush off as just too much information being shared.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights does actually mention Privacy. Article 12 says:

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.

But it doesn’t go so far as to define privacy and what it means by it. I find this is useful for society, but not probably for legislative bodies, the need to define is crucial in law.

I don’t have any answers, but thought I would capture some of these thoughts… your thoughts?

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3 thoughts on “Privacy – it’s not what you think…

  1. It is interesting that just as @tersoit noted, the concept of Privacy is new. There is a bunch of Anthropology (shudder) work on the idea of public/private conception being a direct result of increased leisure time in the lives of worker class brought about by modernisation. In contrast upper class have always enjoyed a privledged position in society, and so never has applied to them anyway.

    Further to this; the idea that certain members of society are \’more capable\’ of interpreting content stems from the upper class wanting to keep certain things hidden from view ( Erotic Sculpture of Pompei for example) – a very Victorian idea ; there is a really good BBC documentary on the history of Pornography that illustrates this far better than I.\”Pornography – the Secret History of Civilisation\”: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0498445/

    This division of control of content further anchored and solidified a common sense definition of \’public\’ and \’private\’.

    This of course is a horribly eurocentric view, I would add that in Chinese culture you have a similar class split. Regardless of the history under inquery you are still looking at a ruling in power group loarding power over another group by way of a Sacred/Profane relationship; using education/religion and political structures to legitimize it.

    So there you go; effectively up until late renaisance our private lives were most likely just fodder for whom-ever happened to come accross them – unless you were rich – in which case you enforced your own (or your mates) privacy via loping of heads.

  2. My take on privacy, you want privacy, do not post. And in a lighter vein: Why did Facebook go public? They couldn’t figure out the privacy settings either….

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