Is privacy a human right?

Privacy is enshrined in the constitutions of perhaps eighty countries, so it is commonly at least a civil right. In the United States, the constitution does not address privacy directly, but in a 1965 decision (Griswold v. Connecticut) the U.S. Supreme Court found a right to privacy within "the shadows and penumbras" of the constitution.


Civil rights, of course, are granted by governments and can be rescinded by governments. For example, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act in October 1970 to set aside temporarily civil liberties that most citizens had long considered part of their fundamental right as human beings. Mr. Trudeau's action was widely supported at the time, but it demonstrated a presumed government right that has been brought into question.


Privacy is admittedly not always a good thing. Surveillance cameras are all over the place in Jerusalem, and to a lesser extent in London. In the face of repeated violence against the public, reduced privacy is widely accepted. But some countries carry surveillance of citizens to an extreme. The Atlantic warned in an online February 2018 article that "China's surveillance state should scare everyone. The country is perfecting a vast network of digital espionage as a means of social control -- with implications for democracies worldwide." A widely shared set of feelings: Privacy for me is good; privacy for assorted "bad guys" is bad; surveillance of terrorists is good; surveillance of me is bad.


If privacy is a mixed value and not in itself a right, what is the relevant human right? I suggest the dignity of the human person. Every person is of value, and is worthy of basic respect. If we habitually treat people as having an inherent dignity, we lay a foundation for solid relationships. If governments recognize dignity of the person as an irrevocable human right, the result is stable communities and strong democracies.


In creating tools for human privacy, Marpex Inc. affirms the dignity of the human person as an inalienable right. Our MarpX Good Privacy product is free and available for download from anywhere in the world. Our hope is that it will tip the balance somewhat more in favor of the common people who live under repressive regimes.

Doug Lowry
Marpex Inc.

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