Understanding privacy in digital media

The understanding of privacy has a huge range — it varies from individual to individual. It’s important to understand the systematic and conceptual properties of privacy.

Privacy as a prerogative

The constitution protects us through amendments I, III, IV, and V. Although there are no explicit rights towards digital media, there are legal precedents and the basic issue of privacy within the constitution protects your privacy rights within digital media. This separates the space between the individual and others.

In terms of legal precedents, the Supreme Court has said that the reason for these rulings is part of the rights of privacy. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut examined whether or not a family or individual has the right to practice birth control. The Court ruled that whatever happens within a family and its home is their privacy and not anyone else’s business. In 1973, Roe v. Wade dictated the decision of abortion, but also privacy and a woman’s right to make her own decisions — independent of her society.

There are a number of statutory laws enacted by Congress, such as COPPA (protects children and their privacy). There are also common laws for protection such as false light, intrusion of solitude, publication of private facts, appropriation of name and likeliness. The legal definition of privacy can differ from our personal definition of privacy.

Privacy as a state of being

The accessibility of space and information can help identify what state of being you are in. Who has the accessibility of your space, how is it inaccessible? Your diary is locked with numerous layers, therefore it is inaccessible to others and it is considered private. The controllability of that space is also important to identify how much privacy one has.

Privacy as a social norm or state of mind

Depending on what space you’re in, the way privacy is defined is subjective. There is no absolute privacy. It is an individual preference. For example, someone speaking loudly on their phone in a public space versus someone hiding in a corner.

The theoretical issues of privacy

John Locke, a proponent for liberty and free will.

The political philosophy helps comprehend the various rights to privacy. In Western society, privacy is something spoken in terms of liberty and free will (John Locke). Privacy is seen as something vital to our individual liberties.

Other scholars can argue that privacy is relative, not absolute. It is a boundary between the private and public spheres (Aristotle, John Stuart Mill). If you participate in the public activities, the public is also involved.

Within the Marxist philosophy, privacy becomes a tool for class oppression. The rights to privacy favors those who have power (Marx). The feminist philosophy looks at privacy as a barrier to gender equality (MacKinnon, 1989). The women have a domestic reign, and men are out in the public. However, when the home and public are separated, the man can hide behind the private barrier which can hurt them.