What is Privacy?

Privacy is a value and a human right recognised in many international agreements and national constitutions. It has been described as 'the right to be left alone'.  The right to some 'personal space' - access to which we can control, is an important part of our humanity and dignity as individuals.

There are many different aspects to privacy:

privacy of the person - protection from body searches and tests

territorial privacy - protection of our homes and property

communications privacy - protection of what we say to others

privacy of personal information - protection of what is known about us

Protection is provided by law - both traditional common law actions for trespass and defamation, and more modern statutes about communications interception and information privacy.  We have also been protected by the cost and difficulty of invading privacy, although these constraints are being overcome by technology.

No-one suggests that privacy rights are absolute - societies judge that some infringements are justified in pursuit of other public interests, such as free speech, law enforcement, and even some private interests such as trade.

But the onus should always be on those who wish to infringe our privacy to justify it, and we should only agree to give up as little privacy as is necessary to achieve other objectives.  There will often need to be a balance struck.

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