Privacy: My Chambers English Dictionary defines the word as “seclusion: a place of seclusion: retreat: retirement: avoidance of notice or display: secrecy: a private matter”.
I was talking to an Afghan expatriate the other day. He came from a remote area in Afghanistan till the area ceased to exist. He talked of how he and his family lived in seclusion and privacy before he came to his new home. He was full of glowing praise for his new country, but it was amusing when he related how at the airport he was peeled and probed and all his belongings laid bare to public gaze and searched, how intrusive cameras watched his every move, how strange hands laid hold of him and he was finger-printed, eye printed, and body scanned. I reminded him that it was normal procedure if we are to remain safe. He could see my point, but having to suddenly face the loss of his privacy, he noticed. I had not noticed it at all till it was pointed out to me.
Privacy. What is it, I thought. Is it still relevant in today’s world. We have grown through a generation of inspection and intrusion far greater than Orwell ever would have imagined when he wrote the novel “1984”. We are watched every time we step outdoors, our cars are tracked street by street and a record kept of all our travels, our phones are routinely tapped and saved for hundreds of years, just in case; our letters are steamed open by a battery of little people sitting in cavernous caves and read and copied before they are sent on, our chats with our relatives abroad are recorded and filed away. Even our body fluids and medical records are not safe from intruders. Those public cameras (innocently called CCTV) already carry speakers with which they can address you. I don’t know if they have microphones attached which can pick up what you are saying from a distance. They are not going to tell you that.
Now what is my take on all this? I don’t know. If I was born 20 years ago I will know nothing different. We have evolved into this un-private set of beings. There is no point lamenting it because it is an irreversible process. By the trajectory these things take, there is more to come. Perhaps cameras in homes. What a great way to make drug enforcement easy? Perhaps secret microphones built into all new cars if they have not already done so. You may be watched in public toilets and changing rooms. If you are, it would be counterproductive to tell you so.
All I am saying here is, in view of all of the above, is it still relevant to go on about one’s privacy, or about the breach of one’s privacy. The question being begged here is ‘what is privacy’. It certainly is not what has been defined in my old Chambers Dictionary. Either the word becomes meaningless or a new definition of the word is in order. Over to those word wonks who sit in their darkened rooms and think up definitions. A new definition is necessary if only because the next high profile court case may depend on it. If someone sues for breach of privacy, what if the judge says it is normal procedure; it is what the average man has to endure; just live with it. I am waiting for that test case.
To put things in perspective, when I do discuss loss of privacy with most educated (and well behaved) folk, the answer is invariably, ” I have nothing to hide. They can watch me and probe me to their heart’s content”. This logically leads to my next question. (Remember the first one was ‘what is privacy’). If you object to loss of privacy what have you got to hide? See how the whole thing is turned on its head. It is no longer a natural right to privacy. It is my natural right to un-privacy. If I do not want un-privacy I may have something to hide.
We are waiting for the climate change to engulf us all. But while waiting it is good to keep our brains fresh with these purely academic discussions. I am sorry for the regulars if this post got a bit serious. I shall make amends.
In the meanwhile spare a thought to those poor people in the Gaza ghetto deprived of water, food, medicines and constantly in fear of monster machines flattening them. Three whole families were wiped out today. They chose to die together than be separated.