Privacy is Freedom

great-wall-1399442What is privacy?  This is a notoriously difficult question to answer.  It is commonly assumed we already know the answer.  And the answers we do get can be muddled or incomplete.  Many excellent books and papers are devoted to exploring this topic.  But privacy should be defined in stark relief so we have a common understanding of what is at stake.  Privacy is much, much more than cookies or government surveillance.  Privacy is freedom.

Privacy and liberty are two sides of the same coin called freedom.  Liberty is “freedom to” and privacy is “freedom from.”  Together these concepts provide the full meaning of freedom.

Give up privacy and we invite the yoke of slavery (which has been the most prevalent societal arrangement for most of mankind – excepting hunter-gatherers and neanderthals) just as surely as we would by giving up our liberties.  Freedom is a precious coin not easily obtained.  Privacy should be treasured and carefully protected.  Not blithely traded away for convenience, techno-baubles, or promises of security.

The word privacy derives from privatus which means something set apart, belonging to oneself.  Each of us is born in possession of ourselves – body and mind.  The concept of privacy extends from this physical-psychical reality.  Privacy is “freedom from” having our body or mind or something that derives from them appropriated, used, or interfered with without consent or a legal reason.  Privacy is your right to set boundaries for your body and mind beyond which others are not permitted to go.

Some say, “But I’ve got nothing to hide.”  Privacy expert Daniel J. Solove demolishes this argument in Nothing to Hide by showing how the notion that we must give up privacy to have security is a false choice.  We can have both.  Promising security in exchange for privacy deprives us of both.

When we give up privacy we give up our freedom from having our bodies and minds used, appropriated, and interfered with.  The rise of social media have lead some to claim that privacy is no longer even a social norm.  Given how freely we share our bodies (photos, events, locations, etc.) and minds (thoughts, feelings, opinions, etc.) with others on social media his point is well taken.

And this is the critical link between privacy and freedom.  We lose our freedom by exercising our liberty to give up our privacy.  The more privacy we give up the less expectation we have of any privacy to begin with.  And we have no 4th Amendment protection if we do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.  It’s a harmful feedback loop that shifts the balance of power away from the individual and into the hands of the companies, governments, and institutions that guide and control our lives.

So what does this have to do with Sudbury?  Everything!  Sudbury is founded on freedom which means it understands the importance of privacy and protects it.  In the words of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis Sudbury students have “the right to be left alone.”  They are there to learn.  Not to be farmed for big data.  They are there to socialize with their peers.  Not to be quantified and measured by standardized tests.  Many claim that these invasions into the privacy of our young people are done for their benefit.  To improve education.  To help the students.  If true, then make the argument, present the evidence, and let the students decide.  That’s how a democracy works.  That’s how it works at Sudbury.

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