Privacy is one of the most contentious issues in civil society, as governments try and expand national mass surveillance programs in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. However, there is a lot of opposition to such expansions, as civil rights activists argue that it will inevitably lead to an Orwellian dictatorship where the government has complete power over its citizens. Civil rights activists argue that such expansions are a “slippery slope” as “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, however that is quite a simplistic view which does not offer both sides of the argument. In this essay I will discuss if privacy is only needed because those in charge cannot be trusted, or if it is something which we fundamentally need.
Even if we lived in a society where everyone was “good”, privacy would still be a useful tool as it is basic human nature to want aspects of our life to be private. For example, a Politician who discovers that he suffers from a terminal illness may not want to share that with the country as it may affect how effectively he can perform his job. In such a case even if we lived “in a perfect world”, the Politician would still not want to openly share that he is ill; in such cases, medical privacy is still incredibly useful as it allows people to make their own personal choices regarding what they want to do with their life. Consequently, there has to be a balance, since living in a society where there is no privacy would lead to an inevitable loss of some personal choice.
In contrast to that, the lack of privacy may improve the lives of humans and provide them with additional choice. For example, companies such as Google use an incredible amount of our private information such as: where we are, where we were, what we searched for, what we say, what we click, what we buy and who we talk to. Consequently, the company is able to provide an incredibly personalised experience to its users, all this personal data improves the quality of the service it provides, meaning that it is beneficial to the people who choose to use the service. Due to the fact that Google knows basically everything about its users, it is able to provide them with additional choices through its recommendation algorithm and ads. The personalised ads which are shown by the algorithm may inform the users of new experiences and products which they most likely are interested in and would have never heard of without Google providing this personalised experience.
Privacy is a term which describes a wide range of different rights, and consequently, it is made up of different subcategories, thus, not all types of privacy are equally important, but one which is often considered essential is privacy from the state. Let’s suppose Lord Acton was wrong and absolute power did not corrupt absolutely, and the constitution would ensure that the government can be trusted with not abusing the power that it is given. It would still have a disastrous effect on civil society if privacy from the government ended, as Just knowing that we are constantly surveilled, we would simply begin to change our behaviour. For example, people would self-censor knowing that whatever question is typed into the google search bar is recorded and will be stored forever. People would begin to fear the consequences of looking at alternate ideologies knowing that they may face prosecution for terrorism. Privacy from the state is essential to maintain free speech and freedom of assembly and democracy, because even if we lived in a “perfect world” we would know that we may face repercussion for believing in something which is considered unorthodox by the state.
To conclude, privacy is a balance that we as a society have to find. Some of us believe that the added convenience that may be gained from giving it up far outweighs the potential loss of personal choice. Some argue that if you have “Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear” however, this exact statement was used by the Nazi party in Germany, so it is understandable how some may be sensitive to giving up civil rights. In my opinion, we need to find a balance between giving up civil rights and living in the security and added convenience that the lack of privacy allows. However, we need to be conscious of “slippery slope” that is giving of civil rights in order to have more security so that our democracy can continue to function