1997-06-12 - There’s no general right to privacy – get over it, from Netly

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From: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Message Hash: 9deafc6d8ae32086a2d07bad43465115968155d9e33d91ab2aff8b8f10664bf2
Message ID: <v03007801afc62e624e47@[]>
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UTC Datetime: 1997-06-12 23:11:53 UTC
Raw Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 07:11:53 +0800

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From: Declan McCullagh <declan@well.com>
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 07:11:53 +0800
To: cypherpunks@toad.com
Subject: There's no general right to privacy -- get over it, from Netly
Message-ID: <v03007801afc62e624e47@[]>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain



The Netly News
June 12, 1997

Privacy? What Privacy?
by Declan McCullagh (declan@well.com)

     I have a confession to make: Unlike many of my
civil libertarian colleagues, I believe you have no
general right to privacy online. Sure, you have the
right to protect your personal data, but you shouldn't
be able to stop someone else from passing along that
information if you let it leave your computer. That's
your responsibility.

     So you can imagine my dismay when I learned I'd
be sitting through four full days of Federal Trade
Commission hearings this week on Internet privacy. The
commission's goal? To define "privacy rights" for the
Net -- and to be perhaps the first federal agency to
regulate it. The commissioners are being spurred on by
consumer groups that want the government to bar firms
from collecting information about your online
wanderings. Businesses say that such a rule would
stifle Internet advertising and commerce and have
recently released a flurry of self-regulatory


     Which is one reason why I think there is no
general right to privacy -- at least as the consumer
groups and privacy advocates describe it. Rotenberg
likes to say "Privacy is not an absolute right, but a
fundamental right." But in truth, privacy is not a
right but a preference: Some people want more of it
than others.

     Of course there's an essential right to privacy
from the government. (Beware government databases:
Nazis used census data in Germany and Holland to track
down and eliminate undesirables.) You also have a
right to privacy from Peeping Toms.

     But -- no matter how much big-government
fetishists want this to be true -- you don't own
information about yourself. After all, journalists are
able to investigate someone's private life and publish
an article -- even if it contains embarrassing
personal details. This is a good thing: Any
restrictions would weaken the First Amendment. Then
there's gossip, which is a time-honored way of trading
in others' personal information. "The reindeer-herding
Lapps, for whom theft of livestock is easy and common,
gossip about who has stolen which animal and where
they are," sociologist Sally Engle Merry writes.


Declan McCullagh
Time Inc.
The Netly News Network
Washington Correspondent