Filtered By: Opinion

14 reasons to love privacy

A prison term and a fine. Over here in the Philippines, some people who talk about privacy (specifically, data privacy) like to put these two at the core of discussions. Their bottom line: if you don’t obey the law, you go to jail and you pay a hefty sum as a result.

I prefer a different approach. I like to highlight the actual significance of privacy in people’s lives. Even without the prospect of punishment looming over their heads, I want people to understand and appreciate why they need their privacy, and why they should protect it from those who want it curtailed for various reasons.

In line with this, and because tomorrow is February 14, I give you fourteen key reasons to love and care about privacy:

  1. It is your fundamental human right. Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. Enough said.
  2. It encourages creativity. Have you noticed how often you’ve had “eureka moments” while you were by your lonesome? Studies have shown that that’s no fluke. People tend to experiment more and entertain suggestions too sensitive to be allowed by social norms, when they are away from the prying eyes of society. Revolutions are born this way.
  3. It helps preserve your dignity. Imagine if everyone knew about your every imperfection, bad habit, or unrefined behavior. Things you normally tuck away while you’re going through daily life. They do not necessarily make you a bad person, but can, if displayed in the open, unfairly deprive you of respectability or destroy a good reputation.
  4. It protects you from unwarranted surveillance. A lot of people want to keep an eye on you. Sometimes, it’s reasonable; in most cases, it’s not. If you’re in prison or a public place, or maybe a kid in a school setting, you’d more or less concede that some form of surveillance is acceptable—necessary even. If you’re a government critic, a member of a minority group, a victim of discrimination, or just a person averse to unwanted attention, not so much.
  5. It is essential to intimacy. They say intimacy is the gradual disclosure of one’s true self to another person. When we become intimate with someone, we’re supposed to reveal ourselves fully to that person—warts and all—to the exclusion of everyone else. This becomes impossible if we are completely exposed to everyone all the time. A random stranger would know everything about you as much as your lover or partner.
  6. It makes social life possible. No two persons have the same set of beliefs. Look to your most trusted friend and chances are, he or she will have some opinion that you are fiercely against. And vice versa. If either of you were aware of the other’s belief, your relationship would likely be in jeopardy. Fortunately, as long as your thoughts remain private, your friendship perseveres.
  7. It protects you from discrimination. We live in a world that reeks of discrimination. Whether it’s your religion, level of education, or some other personal trait—any one of them could trigger another person’s irrational and undeserved hate, and could get you ostracized or deprived of some benefit as a consequence. Privacy helps by demanding that disclosure is made only when absolutely necessary.
  8. It is essential to autonomy. Autonomy is independence. It is freedom from external control. Privacy makes it possible for you to conduct activities without concern of or actual observation. There is no true freedom if your every move or every thought is placed under a microscope, scrutinized at every opportunity by others.
  9. It makes professional interactions possible. Some studies suggest that people who are constantly monitored are less productive compared to their more private peers. Apparently, constant surveillance treats people like children—always in need of supervision. Soon enough, people adjust and start acting like children, eager to find ways to break the rules or defeat the system.
  10. It protects you from profiling. Businesses and governments have their reasons for wanting to put you in a box, typecast and figured out. Not all of them are bad, to be sure. It is the impact of erroneous profiles and the potential for abuse that’s disconcerting. Remember the movie, Minority Report? The one where people are arrested even before they commit any crime. How about Captain America – Winter Soldier? Project Insight there was designed to identify people who should be targeted for preemptive assassination. Extreme and probably outrageous examples, surely; but not completely impossible.
  11. It is critical to a democracy. Take privacy’s impact on social life and project it on a large scale. A true democracy relies on people getting along despite their differences, in order to succeed. Privacy allows us to tone down our differences, paving the way for cooperation, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence. This makes it a critical prerequisite to any democratic society.
  12. It protects you from identity theft. Privacy—privacy laws, in particular—makes the unauthorized use or processing of our personal information illegal. This is a disincentive to criminals and fraudsters who make a living out of other people’s identities by availing of certain benefits on their behalf.
  13. It enables other human rights. Privacy is often depicted as a counterweight to other rights like free expression or right to information, such that upholding it necessarily requires giving up the other. That’s not true. In most cases, they actually reinforce or complement each other. For instance, history shows us that anonymity—an element of privacy—allows people to express themselves fully against oppressive and tyrannical regimes. A free press or a robust right to information system, meanwhile, rein in government abuses, some of which negatively impact privacy (i.e., mass surveillance).
  14. It protects you from being misunderstood or judged out of context. We live in a world of short attention spans, where data is easily confused with knowledge. People get bits and pieces of your life from your social media account and they think they already have you figured out. With privacy, you should be able to choose what and how much information you disclose and with whom.

Certainly, people (especially couples) will have far less spectacular reasons for wanting privacy this Valentine’s Day. If anything, though, this list proves that there is more to respecting privacy than secret liaisons and escaping prison terms and fines.

Jamael Jacob is a lawyer specializing in the field of law, ICT, and human rights. He is currently the Director of the University Data Protection Office of the Ateneo de Manila University, and Policy and Legal Advisor to the Foundation for Media Alternatives. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the organizations he is currently affiliated with.