The need for privacy is deep-rooted in human beings. In its essential form, privacy is based on the notion of personal integrity and dignity. However, this is also hard to define with any agreed precision – in different contexts it embraces the right to freedom of thought and conscience, the right to be alone, the right to control one’s own body, the right to protect your reputation, the right to a family life, the right to a sexuality of your own definition. In addition these meanings vary from context to context. Despite its ubiquity there is no one definition of privacy that is universally understood in the same way. Privacy in the modern world has two dimensions – firstly, issues to do with the identity of a person and secondly, the way their personal information is handled.
Understandings of privacy have long been shaped by available technologies. At the most obvious level privacy involves restricting invasions of physical space, and the protection of home and personal possessions, which is why early privacy protections focused upon the inviolability of the home and family life. Concerns about controlling what information is known about a person came with communication technologies. Concerns about the erosion of privacy are not new – in fact, it might be argued they are feature of the twentieth century. Warren and Brandeis’ seminal paper on “The Right to Privacy” in 1890, drafted at a time when newspapers were printing pictures of people for the fist time, defied the right as the “right to be left alone”. Their definition – driven by an emerging technology as is often the case with privacy – was concerned with protecting the “inviolate personality” and encompassing such values as individual dignity, personal autonomy and independence.1 The growth of modern mass media and the advertising industry’s focus on understanding consumers’ wants led Myron Brenton to argue that we are living in the “age of the goldfish bowl”, where private lives are made public property by the manipulation and exchange of personal data.