The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. – The 4th Amendment.
To some the 4th Amendment in the Bill of Rights is the beginning of any conversation within the United States about privacy. I should not need to state the obvious that the word privacy was not included in this amendment. Nevertheless, many judges have assumed the right to privacy from this and other amendments.
Let us not approach this topic from an overly legalistic starting point. I rather begin by saying, “I have something to hide.” That is right. I have a lot to hide, including but not limited to my immediate thoughts, developed opinions, the way I handle people and their input, and actions taken in my past that I would be ashamed of admitting to in the public. I am a human being.
Privacy is what protects me, and allows me to present myself as the good individual I aspire to be. Losing my privacy would be like losing my credit. It would impede me on my way to reach the goals I have given myself.
Maybe this is an overstatement. Honesty is paramount, and all honest people can readily admit their faults and be applauded for their self-awareness. Whoever said, “the truth shall set you free” said a phrase that means more than we think. The truth sets people free not because you can now be called an honest person, or be said to have good credit. You are set free because upon admitting your faults, you will see those faults in others. Others too may readily admit their faults, and the ground beneath all of us levels out.
Privacy is what levels out the ground then. It is credit. Maybe it is more. The 4th Amendment after all had nothing to do with interpersonal settings. The purpose was to codify in writing where the limits of government authority stops (in the United States). This is important, and more so now that the United States is again in debate about the reach of government surveillance.
Why worry about government surveillance? After all, there is no secret police in the United States (to the best of my knowledge). Does the 4th Amendment apply to surveillance? This strays to the legal realm, and I am not a lawyer. We know for the most part that our rights are secured by the quality of our democratic/republican ethos, even if in practice our rights are technically broached everyday. Satellites fly over our heads, private companies map our homes from the outside, white pages publishes our information online for everyone to see.
Technology has not outpaced language. Privacy may be an outdated term, but it is not irrelevant. That is, primarily, because those things we wish to hide that would have discarded us of our credit, are slowly losing their powers to do so. My actions toward one end may be viewed entirely apart from other actions in the pursuit of an entirely different goal. Whatever I believe in as the origins of human life or the cosmos, or whoever I vote for in elections, or even who rests on the other side of my bed, is slowly becoming irrelevant to the strengths of good deeds I can perform. This is an heartening thought. One must not now cower for fear of shaming when standing up for what is right. One look at Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the greatest moral crusader in this country, and not care he was also a man who cheated on his wife. His great moral deeds did not extend to every aspect of his life for every hour that he lived.
Privacy, at that point, was a shield. It protected the message of Dr. King from tarnish by actions that could have cost him dearly on his push to make the Kennedy and Johnson administrations take up the civil rights mantle. The fact that communists worked with the great Dr. King, to teach people how to dissent peacefully and force the issue before the public, was a necessary secret.
Today a moral crusader can use technology to his or her advantage. Society is also more forgiving of personal indiscretion, especially from people who otherwise perform good deeds.
That does not apply to me because I am not a moral crusader nor political activist. My privacy need not be viewed in such a large scope. I choose to pull the shades down when I dress. I keep quiet about things I do not think others need know. I remove tags of myself from Facebook on photos that do not portray me the way I want to portray myself. This is me. this is my privacy. Your privacy is your own.
Privacy has never been a universal term. It will never be one. Context is too necessary. Privacy is still a means of retaining credit, but that currency has fallen. I would “short” this aspect of privacy, in the jargon of Wall Street. I would go “long” the other side of privacy. Public honesty and consistency in ethics, and/or consistency in action, dissuades people from digging – or caring – about the things we do not make public. Our public personas are what protect our privacy. The single unfortunate fact of this is that you cannot control perception of you. Racism, whether active or passive, tilts perception of public persona. There are many other factors. But we do not win by building up walls of privacy, but by knocking the remaining walls down. That way perception can get as level as possible, and privacy can be whatever we each want it to be. If we can be honest, first.