Freedom: the Case for Privacy
Michael McFarland (president of the College of the Holy Cross) once wrote, “Privacy is important. Reverence for the human person as an end in itself and as an autonomous being requires respect for personal privacy. To lose control of one's personal information is in some measure to lose control of one's life and one's dignity. Therefore, even if privacy is not in itself a fundamental right, it is necessary to protect other fundamental rights.” Today, I stand resolved that privacy, which “is necessary to protect…fundamental rights,” is undervalued. Before I continue on to prove this, I would like to present a few definitions for clarity. Privacy is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “Avoidance of display or publicity; freedom from intrusion.” When I speak of privacy, I will be speaking more specifically of informational privacy. Thus, it is specifically privacy of information that is not valued as it ought, and thus, this privacy should be valued more highly. I will now proceed to prove my case making use of a value and several contentions.
The value that I will be upholding is that of freedom. Michael Treder (former managing director of the IEET [Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies]) defines freedom as “the right…to think, believe, speak, worship, move about, gather, and generally act as you choose—but only until your choices start to infringe on another person’s freedom.” Now that we have a value, I would like to demonstrate how this value applies to my case.
Let us begin with my first contention: privacy and freedom are inherently connected. A lack of privacy results in a lack of freedom, and indeed allows for the possibilities of tyranny. If we do not properly value our “freedom from intrusion,” we will open the door to control of us by society, by government, indeed, by any who desire to gain such control. Thus, we can see that a lack of privacy brings about limited freedom. This can be seen in my first example of union card checks. The AWF (Alliance for Worker Freedom) writes, “Card Check is [a] process by which an employees' right to a federally supervised private ballot election is taken away. This can occur by union organizers coming to a business and asking workers to sign a card in public, or by having mail-in cards; the union, your co-workers … will still know how you voted.” Since how each employee voted is no longer kept from private, the process of card check has resulted in the removal of the freedom of the voting employees. The privacy of these employees is ignored, and this has directly resulted in employees often facing coercion, intimidation and even physical threat by those who are for the union. As we can clearly see, an undervaluing of privacy leads to infringement of liberty.
Yet the opposite is also true: properly valuing privacy supports greater freedom, for it is our privacy that, when properly valued, results in the maximizing of our freedoms. With our privacy protected, tyranny is prevented, for no man can any longer come and coerce or restrain our choices or actions. How true the words of Sir Edward Coke, “A man’s house is his castle.” When our privacy is properly valued, our freedom is insured. The founding fathers recognized this link between privacy and freedom, as is clearly demonstrated in the fourth amendment to the Constitution, which states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” The founding fathers saw that in order to insure the freedom of the people, they first needed to insure and properly value the privacy of the people, for privacy and freedom are inherently connected.
Yet, though the connection between privacy and freedom has now been made clear, it must still be shown whether or not privacy is presently being undervalued. We have already seen one example, that of card-checks. And this is only one of innumerable examples. Let us look at just one other example. This second example is that of governmental surveillance. Michael McFarland writes, “The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security…have many programs to monitor citizens in general, not just those who are under suspicion. These efforts include sifting through media references, tracking chatter on social networks, and monitoring peoples' movements through license plate scanners and video cameras.” It is frightening when we realize that every conversation we engage in over the social networks is possibly being monitored by the government. Indeed, as this quote shows us, we cannot even wander at liberty across the country, for our very movements are, to some extent, supervised. As McFarland says, “The mere knowledge that American citizens could be the subjects of surveillance can in itself have a chilling effect on political freedom.” As we can see from this and other examples, privacy is dramatically undervalued. Thus, our freedom is at risk.
Now that we have seen how our freedom is being infringed upon because of a lack of proper privacy, I would like to continue to demonstrate the significance of freedom. My third and final contention is that freedom is of paramount importance. R. J. Rummel (professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii) recognized this importance, writing, “The more freedom a people have, the greater their health, wealth and prosperity; the less their freedom the more their impoverishment, disease, and famines.” As we can see from this, our well-being is dependent on freedom. Thus, the freedom of all individuals ought to be preserved, for when freedom is infringed upon, it is detrimental, not only to the individual whose freedom is damaged, but also to the entire nation, for when the individual members of a nation suffer, the entire nation suffers. Thus, freedom is vitally important to the good of both individuals and nations.
The founding fathers clearly recognized the supreme value of freedom, for they were willing to fight and even die for this ideal. So fundamental was the value of freedom to the founding fathers that Patrick Henry famously said, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” From these examples, we can see that freedom is of paramount importance.
Yet, as we have seen already, privacy, which is necessary for freedom, is not being valued as it must in order to protect freedom. Therefore, privacy must be undervalued, and as such ought to be valued more highly. It is for these reasons, then, that I urge my readers to support freedom by valuing privacy.