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Home > Privacy Fundamentals > What is Privacy?

What is Privacy?

The word "privacy" has been used to describe many concerns with the modern world. It is a complex concept even before other concerns are lumped with it. The concept of "privacy" deserves to be carefully examined. It defies easy definition, and many proposals to protect privacy have gone forward without a clear articulation of what privacy really is.

Importantly, privacy is a personal, subjective condition. One person cannot decide for another what his or her sense of privacy should be.

An important conclusion flows from this latter observation. That is that government regulation of the private sector in the name of privacy can only create confidentiality or secrecy rules based on the guesses of politicians and bureaucrats. The better way to protect true privacy is to distribute decisions about how personal information is used to the people affected.

While privacy is held up as one of our highest values, people also constantly share information about themselves by allowing others to see their faces, learn their names, learn what they own, and learn what they think. In fact, it is a desirable lack of privacy that allows people to interact with one another socially and in business. This does not mean that people should lose control over the information they want to keep private. It means that generalizations about privacy are almost always wrong.


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[updated 02/27/03]

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