Meaning and value of privacy
A great deal of philosophical and legal debate about privacy concerns its meaning and value. As a philosopher, Annabelle Lever is one of those who have observed this. However, she also notes that the level of definitional controversy is surprising, as ‘it is doubtful that privacy really is any harder to define than any other complex right or value’.1 In this chapter, I explore the reasons for the special complexity associated with privacy. I suggest that one reason may be the relatively recent status of the right to privacy (at least as far as law is concerned), with the result that it remains a less well-established and thus more contestable right compared with other rights of more ancient lineage, such as the right to free speech and the right to property which are now well-entrenched even if they are still much debated. Further, another reason may be that the meaning of ‘privacy’ seems to have undergone a process of revision over recent decades in response to pressures for expanded coverage of the right to privacy to address current challenges. Yet it is important to acknowledge that the right to privacy – or to ‘private life’ to use the older expression that was popular for much of its history,2 comparable to the French la vie privée – is still importantly, as Lever says, a right ‘inherited from the past’.3 Likewise, when it comes to assessing its meaning, bearing in mind Ferdinand de Saussure’s observation that language ‘always appears as a heritage...
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