The Right to Privacy
Sunday, April 13, 2014
First Aired: 
Sunday, January 29, 2012

What is it

Is the right to privacy – the right to be left alone and to control one’s personal information – really a right? Is privacy just a privilege that can be revoked any time it conflicts with other more important needs, like the need to protect our security? Who has the right to infringe upon our privacy and for what particular purposes? How much public surveillance do we really need to stay safe and does that count as an infringement on our privacy? How does our use of social media undermine our claims to privacy? John and Ken talk openly with George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen, author of Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change.

Listening Notes

‘Private’ or ‘Privacy’ carry different meanings. It can mean withdrawn and protected from the public in one sense, or having singular access in another. Ken and John begin with an exploration of the uses and forms of privacy. They pose the question of whether privacy is a right that is fundamental to being human, or if it is built on other rights such as that of self-protection. John then teases Ken for belonging to an exhibitionist generation, but importantly points to a contemporary dilemma: Can our expectations of confidentiality survive in an increasingly connected world?

Jeffery Rosen gives his insights on privacy by looking at the arguments of autonomy, seclusion from the government, and the desire for dignity and respect. He agrees with John that our need for privacy is deeply tied to a sense of human individuality and a resistance to homogeneity. But he thinks privacy is impossible to reduce and thus unclear as a basic right. The discussion moves to the Constitution and how privacy is balanced out through other rights. Rosen argues an attempt to reduce privacy to a single amendment would be too abstract to be useful or too narrow.

Ken asks whether it is right to say we knowingly give away our right to privacy by signing onto products. Rosen rejects this and refers to the European model that requires permission before information moves to third parties. Agreeing with Justice Sotomayor, he thinks the U.S. needs to reexamine this third party doctrine. Perhaps there is even a right to be forgotten, a current legal exploration of the French. This would give individuals the right to force a third party to delete personal information from their database. This is important today when corporations present the more real fear than the government; for Rosen, Google and Facebook have more power over privacy and free speech than the government or the Supreme Court.

Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 5:19): Kaitlyn Esch talks to reporter Catherine Price on her attempt to spend a week without leaving a trace in an anonymity experiment for Popular Science.

Sixty-Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:05) - Ian Shoales discusses how Amazon and Google’s targeted ads make him look like an obsessed Nixon fan and a piano music lover.

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Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law, George Washington University

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