Privacy is about more than information, solitude, and secrecy. Privacy is the right to oneself.

For someone who cares quite a bit about the right to privacy, until recently I struggled to define it. After all, privacy is incredibly broad: it is your right to keep information about yourself confidential; it is your right to not be disturbed in your own home; it is your right to have an abortion. (Roe v. Wade ruled that the right to privacy guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's right to have an abortion.) Privacy is nothing less than human instinct.

There is a common thread: yourself. Indeed, privacy can be broadly defined as your own exclusive right to yourself. This definition encompasses information privacy, domestic privacy, and even physical privacy. And when defined this way, it becomes immediately apparent why privacy is among our most important rights.


WhyPrivacyMatters.org is a wonderful resource for those who wish to understand the importance of information privacy. (Full disclosure: I am its primary author.) For reference, I've included its full text below.

Knowledge is power; Knowledge about you is power over you. Your information will be used to anticipate your actions and manipulate the way you shop, vote, and think.

Without privacy, you might be so afraid that you’re being judged by others that you won’t try or learn new things, even if you’re not doing anything wrong.

Your personal information and private communications can be “cherrypicked” to make you look like a bad person or a criminal, even if you’re not.

Not all information in your control is yours to share. Information shared privately with you by friends, family, and coworkers is not yours to reveal to a government, company, or another person.

By exercising your right to privacy, you make it easier for others, such as activists and journalists, to do so without sticking out.

You are not and will not be judged by your own standards. Standards differ between people and organizations, and standards shift with time. Even if your behavior is deemed acceptable today, it can be held against you tomorrow.

Sharing personal data, even with a party you trust, means it is out of your control and at risk of being hacked or sold.

Social boundaries are created when we are able to keep parts of our life private. You might want to prevent some people, such as former partners, employers, or family, from knowing certain things about you.


Cover image via BoingBoing.