In the previous part, I set up some basic parameters to discussions of the right to privacy, particularly that I’m discussing the moral right to privacy that is independent legal concerns. (If you missed it, go back and read it. Even if you read it, the music video posted makes another visit worthwhile.)
In this part, I’m giving the first part of a thought experiment. (To the non-philosophers, thought experiments involve hypothetical situations that are intended to show us a problem or inconsistency with one’s stated view.) Taken together with the next part of the series, these situations are intended to make us evaluate what we mean by privacy and what we want when we say we want privacy.
In this first situation, someone has managed to put you under constant surveillance, such that everything you do is seen by this person, everything you say is heard by this person, and this person can see/hear all of your communication with others. The good, the bad, the public, the intimate, this person sees and hears all. This person has devoted his life to watching your every move. This person is an extremely gifted spy and is never detected, nor does he do anything to raise even the slightest suspicion that he is watching you. However, this person has no malicious intent in the constant surveillance; he just enjoys watching your life. He never exposes anything discovered about you, nor does he use your identity for any purpose at all. He doesn’t do anything to influence any of your actions; he just watches. You never know that you’re being watched, from birth to death, and when you die, this person moves on to do something else with his life, never indicating that he’s spent the last however many years just watching your life.
It seems that this situation is an obvious abuse of one’s right to privacy, even though one never knows that one’s right is being abused. I think we can all agree that one doesn’t have to know that one’s rights are being abused in order for them to be abused. Remember, we’re talking about moral rights, not legal rights. If legal rights cannot be enforced, there is reason to question if they actually exist. However, with moral rights, a lack of recognition or enforcement does not mean they fail to exist.
Any other thoughts on why this is an abuse of rights is welcome.
In the next part, I’ll present the second situation of this thought experiment.