The Right to Privacy

Orestis Tsinalis
January 15th 2012

Privacy is a right. A right given to people by telecommunications companies and social networking websites. It can be described by multiple-choice lists of settings. And it seems that people are extremely willing to downgrade their notion of privacy to the level of the visibility of their social media feed or the confidentiality of their recent viral video viewing history in order to fit the various trending models. Which naturally leads to the question of whether anybody can explain what their privacy is about.

What should feel alarming is that the conversation about privacy always arises after the fact—i.e. after it has been, allegedly, breached. Given that, one can (naively) presume that there is no issue whatsoever that needs to be reexamined as regards privacy unless privacy is contested. Very typical trick: if there's no threat, things should stay the same. This simple mechanism is at the heart of the privacy 'discourse'.

In principle, it is impossible to contest an idea which has never been articulated and explicitly expressed by the relevant parties—in this case the idea is privacy, and the party responsible for articulating and expressing it is people. In our setting there is no existing idea of privacy to contest, and that's because threat always precedes articulation, as it was previously explained. Consequently, the privacy 'discourse' initiated in the social media context is not about discussing or reexamining the idea of privacy, it is about prescribing it. 'Threat by threat', so to speak. It is obvious that what we erroneously view as our articulation is the result of this process initiated by the previous threat—we always lag behind.

Although by being 'privacy-aware' you may meet the current standards of privacy that are set by others, this approach lacks personality. Too bad, personality is what gives worth to privacy. Sadly, people have been convinced that personal space can be defined as the negation of the non-personal (the non-non-personal) instead of the affirmation of the painstaking relationship-by-relationship building of our perimeter of intimacy. Therefore, it cannot be even named a space, but rather a formless mass of whatever remains after you know what could probably be (until the next threat cycle) non-personal. But the act of excluding everything that can be exposed does not necessarily entail that the result must be private. In my view, the much talked-about lack of privacy is not a deterioration of a concept but a total lack of concept in the first place.

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