Home > All, Security Issues > Further thoughts on the Privacy Principle: the difference between privacy and secrecy

Further thoughts on the Privacy Principle: the difference between privacy and secrecy

I think the dilemma over ‘privacy’ is that there is no dilemma. It is caused by our confusion between privacy and secrecy; we mix them up as if there are the same thing. They are not. Perpetrators covet secrecy; victims deserve privacy. Secrecy is used to try to cloak something either morally or legally wrong; privacy is a natural right for legal behaviour. I believe in privacy; I do not believe in secrecy. That’s why Ryan Giggs did not deserve his injunction: he was trying to keep something secret. That is why Jaycee Lee Dugard deserves privacy: she is a victim who did nothing to cause her ordeal.

Considered in this light, it can be applied to other issues, such as the internet. Phorm, if you can remember it, tried to keep its inner workings secret; and BT trialled Phorm on a selection of its users secretly. There were both in the wrong. The BT customers (and the customers similarly secretly monitored by TalkTalk) did nothing: they deserve their privacy.

As soon as anyone tries to keep something secret rather than private, then you should question the motives and the content. ACTA, anyone?

Categories: All, Security Issues
  1. June 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Kevin Townsend :
    I do not believe in the moral validity of the ‘greater good’; I believe in the primacy of the individual right.

    that’s interesting. we seem to believe the same outcome should occur, but we don’t agree on the way that decision should be made.

    i’m not sure i follow your logic, though. if the individual right trumps everything else, doesn’t that mean the individual named ryan giggs should be able to keep private that which he wants to keep private? if he did something wrong (i’m not intimately familiar with the case) then is that wrong-ness itself not defined by it’s conflict with the interests of the many? doesn’t treating him differently with respect to privacy due to wrong-doing then boil down to serving the interests of the public and thus the greater good?


  2. June 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    while privacy and secrecy certainly aren’t the same thing, secrecy is really the only tool that an individual has for protecting his/her privacy.

    privacy largely (though not necessarily completely) involves the issues of who can access your personal information and what they can do with it. individuals can’t really control what others can do with their personal information once those others know that information – control of that can only be achieved through laws, and enforcement of those laws happens after the fact, after personal information is misused.

    controlling basic access to the information in the first place (keeping things secret) is pretty much all an individual can do themselves. to a certain extent there are also laws about this (for example laws protecting the individual from being forced to reveal information), but they largely involve supporting the individual’s intent to keep the information secret.

    as such, i don’t think the giggs vs. dugard issue is one of secrecy vs privacy. it seems to me it’s more a matter of whose interests are trumped by the interests of the public at large. publicizing details of a convicted criminal’s crime serves the safety interests of the public, while details of a victim’s ordeal do not. revealing one serves the greater good, revealing the other does not.


    • June 5, 2013 at 10:59 am

      A very, very late response… I agree with almost all of Kurt’s comments, except one (which actually affects the degree to which I agree): I do not believe in the moral validity of the ‘greater good’; I believe in the primacy of the individual right.


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