The Weekly Dream: The Right to Privacy

Whatever you have spoken in the darkness shall be heard and listened to in the light, and what you have whispered in [people's] ears and behind closed doors will be proclaimed upon the housetops.
-Luke 12:3

This semester, I am taking a class called “The Law of Privacy.” It is an interesting class dealing with how far should the government and intrude into the lives and rights of individuals. I was surprised to learn that there are two types of privacy: Informational and decisional privacy. Informational deals with information about you released to the public (e.g. credit bureaus). Decisional privacy deals with those hot button issues like abortion, sexual orientation, etc. As one could imagine, technology plays a central role in privacy law. With the advent of the internet, Blogs, Profile sites, Smartphones, GPS, reality television and the like, it seems that you have to go to the moon to get some privacy.

In this Information Age, we are constantly bombarded with information. And it is a constant race to stay current. However, a large part of this is sifting through the ruff to get to the diamonds. When I turn on my computer, I come across numerous things I do not care about, mainly gossip. I do not care who is dating whom, who is cheating on whom, He said/She said. I have enough problems. However, the gossip and reality shows are a thriving industry. What is the preoccupation with sensationalism? Is it because the lives of these people are boring or are they trying to escape a dry, crusty reality? However, this will not help the situation. The result is that people know a lot of things that do not matter, instead of what they need to know. In addition to the voyeurism forced down our throats by the media, the government, under the auspices of National Security, has made it easy for any one to find out anything about you (read: wiretaps, credit reports, identity theft). Indeed, privacy is a scarce and undervalued commodity.

Why is Privacy Important?

Privacy, by definition, necessitates selective exclusion. In this exclusion, relationships are fostered and intimacy develops because there is a comfort and a safe place. Social theorists have claimed that there is a correlation between privacy and individuality. More privacy fosters more individuality and diversity. Less breeds a bland mainstream. Why? Because in the absence of privacy, there is the threat of disapproval, ostracism and rejection if you do not uphold “acceptable behaviors and values”.

In a family, when the sphere of privacy shrinks to the point where parents and children can no longer occupy the same space, then the children leave home-often to make decisions and mistakes without the criticism and stricture of the family. This can cause tension, but this is when parents should learn to “let go”, respect the privacy of their grown children and trust they will make good decisions.

The greatest thinkers and religious figures treasured being alone with their thoughts and their intimates. Henry David Thoreau wrote “Civil Disobedience” in seclusion. Jesus would often leave the multitudes and His disciples to pray and gain insight. Moses would went up the mountain and came back with the Ten Commandments. The Israelites, alone in the wilderness emerged as a cohesive nation. Privacy in the form of the retreat is at its essence spiritual. When you are alone, you can reflect and truly define yourself. In the presence of others, you can contrast what you are not.

To me, privacy means the absence of distraction. It is placing a restriction on how much outsiders have access to. When there are no distractions, then there is intense focus. In Kung-fu movies, the hero always goes into seclusion to train and then he faces his foe. Why? Because he must conquer himself before he can achieve his mission. Privacy is not an end unto itself, but it is to recharge so that we can come back and function at a higher level. Privacy is essential to the realization of potential.

These days, people willingly surrender their privacy. A constant debate I have is whether websites like the Facebook or MySpace is an invasion of privacy. I feel it is, but others say that it is a consensual invasion. And true, these sites are consensual, but perhaps these individuals do not know any better. Perhaps people do not examine the ramifications of providing an internet all-access pass. Especially since employers have begun to background check these sites to monitor potential hires and employees.

Privacy can be imposed on individuals. For example, we cannot appear in public nude. So where do we draw the line?

Is Anything Sacred?

In this age of “All-access”, nothing is sacred and it is hurting our relationships. Privacy is the highest respect one can be paid in society. It fosters the self and imagination. As Garlin, Dumi and Brandon have artfully expressed, technology is a tool and should be used to amplify good, not stupidity ( i.e. Vh1’s Flavor of Love). It is hard enough to find truth in the world, and the presence of noisome voices do not make it any easier. Let’s set boundaries as to how far we will let people, technology, and the government encroach upon our lives.

In the Bible, it says seek first the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom of God is within each of us. However, how can we find the Kingdom on the inside with all the noise on the outside?

Make time to reflect, to build intimacy with the Creator and loved ones, with no distractions.

Respect the privacy of others.

Hold fast to the truth, and let go of the ruff.

Truth and Peace,
Steven M. DeVougas

Question of the Week: What are the ramifications of decreased privacy?

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2 responses to “The Weekly Dream: The Right to Privacy”

  1. Monique says :

    Hey Steven,
    First, let me say I’m so excited about you being a contributor.

    On Privacy
    Ramifications of decreased privacy may include anything from stalking, assimilation, rebellion or sharing and compassion. I think privacy that is decreased by force or unknowingly is wrong. Privacy of the allocation of public funds would be crazy.

    I think we must be careful because too much privacy and reflection without openness and sharing weakens us. Ultimately, I think privacy is one of those delicate rights that should be protected because intimacy, individuality and personal growth are important. We need to have the AWARENESS to protect the privacy of certain things and respect and encourage openness/disclosure for other things. Sharing and openness for empathy is important. Consider the “privacy” of domestic violence relationships. For years, abusers could use issues of privacy to get away with beating their domestic partners. Women needed the privacy of dv relationships to be put out there so others survivors could come forth. Jen is pregnant and the baby is Brad’s would be interesting (not really important) and I respect her right to not talk about it.

  2. Steven M DeVougas says :

    Monique,

    Thank you for your observations. As you said, the awareness is the important part of this equation, which requires good judgment and discretion. I think a good benchmark is a risk-benefit analysis. What is at stake by either respecting or failing to respect this right? Is it life or death? Will great bodily harm result? Another question we should ask is whether there is a duty involved. As you illustrated with your public funds example, Government has a duty to the public to disclose certain things. Sometimes, the knowledge that our actions may become publicized, resulting in public stigmatization is an incentive to do the right thing. In any event, I think it is human nature to be “nosy” and I do not think this will change anytime soon. If this is the case, at least let us seek the lesson in our neighbor’s foibles and be admonished accordingly.

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