Is Privacy a Right?

castle

Good question.

That's what people say when they don't have an answer yet.

And such is the case with the question in the headline.

I started wondering about it following  a tweeted response by Raouf Eldeeb (@raouf777) to Privacy is Personal:

It is also a fundamental right, not a privilege to be bestowed on anyone. The individual should have the right to determine the extent of his privacy.

While I agreed automatically with both of Raouf's points, I began to wonder about all kinds of rights, including privacy. That's because I was haunted by what Yuval Noah Harari says about rights in his book Sapiens—A Brief History of Humankind (Harper, 2011, 2104):

Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers….We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings….

That's in Chapter 2. In Chapter 6, he also challenges the concept of equality, which informs much of our thinking and lawmaking around rights:

Is there any objective reality, outside the human imagination, in which we are truly equal? Are all humans equal to one another biologically? … Equally, there is no such thing as rights in biology. There are only organs, abilities and characteristics. Birds fly not because they have a right to fly, but because they have wings.

And yet, while Harari says rights are a collection of stories we tell ourselves, he also credits the role of belief in rights for holding civilization together and for advancing it. He points out, for example, that the story of rights America's founders told in the Declaration of Independence was a helluva lot more civilized than the Code of Hammurabi, which applied the death penalty to a huge roster of crimes (including lying), and codified women and slaves as forms of property. Harari also adds that the United States "would not have lasted 250 years if the majority of presidents and congressmen failed to believe in human rights".