yARN: What is a “right to privacy?”

yARN: What is a “right to privacy?”

"'Privacy' is nothing more than a modern invention that allows people to hide, preferably in plain sight


Much has been made of the past few years (ummm decades?) of the erosion of privacy. We have Scott McNealy (of Sun Microsystems at the time) telling us “you have zero privacy anyway, get over it".

More recently, Google’s Eric Schmidt offered, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Before we continue, let's step back a few thousand years when we lived in small groups (in the metaphorical jungle) and everyone knew everyone’s business.


In fact the survival of the group depended on it.

In a similar fashion, move forward a little to feudal Europe (as an easy example). The majority of people lived in small villages (or on the surrounding farms) and for people of those times to travel five miles was a “big deal.” Again, there was no privacy. Moreover, strangers were easily recognised and could not go unchallenged.

In fact to this day we still hear anecdotes of remote villages who consider people ‘strangers’ until they’ve lived in the area for at least three generations!

So, what is privacy?

Simply, ‘Privacy’ is nothing more than a modern invention that allows people to hide, preferably in plain sight.

Once urban areas grew to the point where it was totally infeasible for any resident to know every other resident, privacy was ripe for the claiming.

And once people were able to ‘hide,’ and, as Eric Schmidt suggests, to do things they “don’t want anyone to know,” then privacy is born; nay, claimed.

If we look at this history, it’s quite obvious that the “Privacy Quotient” (PQ) was close-enough to zero for the vast majority of human history and only started to increase as massive urbanisation occurred (and even that was quite variable for different civilisations).

PQ reached a peak (probably) in the early 1980s, just before the rise of the computer age and has suffered a steady decline ever since.

So, with all this as context, is there a “right to privacy?” Unfortunately, in Australia there currently isn’t. However, the High Court has indicated such a thing might exist, should a suitable case be presented before it.

If you were to talk to our modern youth, privacy is simply an impediment to being ‘famous.’ And, of course, being famous is far more important that a real job, just ask Paris Hilton (remember her?).

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Tags privacyGoogleSun Microsystemshigh courtsocial securityeric schmidtparis hiltonScott McNealyprivacy quotient

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