Privacy is a bundle of rights, a bundle of sticks. How many sticks do you have to take out before you lose your bundle, your overall right?

B.C. Rowe

To escape the pressures of society or to engage in intimate interactions, some Brazilian aboriginals would go to clearings in the forest, "alligator places." It is protection from intrusion that drives the need for privacy. From the earliest times, humans have participated in activities with other humans whether it be hunting, gathering, herding, planting, praying, warring, or socializing. It was only at the moment when these interactions became demanding, oppressive, or boring did humans seek shelter from the intrusion. Although conceptualizations of privacy emerged at different places and at different times, the reasons for the genesis of the concept are the same.

The Old Testament offers many clues regarding the relationships between Yahweh and the Hebrew people. The populace was God's possession. Only Moses was invited to enter the summit of Mount Sinai and, since then, Mosaic Law directed both the public and private lives of Hebrews. Even the most intimate relationships and rituals were framed by religious law and belief.

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From ancient Athens, we learn that very little distinction between the public and private activity is made. In fact, individuals were outcasts, idiotes, if they did not actively seek office. As Socrates discovered, those wishing to remain private or individualistic faced ostracism and sometimes death.

The writings of Mencius, Confucius, and Hsun Tzu indicate an encouragement to revere that which is public. It is clear that the common person, however, did not have a part to play, as in Athens, in the affairs of the state, other than to accept one's position as subject. The subversive Lao Tzu counter argues this premise and directs subjects toward individual thought and freedom. Implicit in this notion is that individual thought exiges private time and space.

The right to privacy against authority surfaced much later, as in Europe during the medieval period when society was based on a complex system of immunities and obligations. The vassal enjoyed a certain degree of private time and space if and when the obligations and responsibilities to the lord were met. According to the oaths of fealty, the vassal owed military service, attendance at court, payments and hospitality. The lord was obligated, in turn, to provide protection, hearing in court, and respect for family interests.

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Privacy, as Mr. Justice LaForest claims, "is the very hallmark of a free society." We struggle with the location of the demarcation lines, between the right to privacy and the right to know, between an individuals right to privacy and society's desire for security. Within the public domain we have considered whether our government should keep files containing
several hundred items of our personal information.

In the domestic domain, we deal with issues regarding marital and familial relations, telemarketing practices that collect and share information, issues around genetic testing and who should have access to personal diaries or journals.

Quotation 3

Within both the professional and private spheres, we grapple with the knowledge that our behaviours and interactions are becoming more closely monitored because of the developing monitoring technologies.

Are democracies becoming Orwellian surveillance societies? The "telescreen" has not yet appeared to the extent that was described in 1984, but, the ion-scanner, the iris ID, the palm scanner, the smart card and penetrating cameras have been effectively used to monitor our activities. We are confronted with an array of questions pertaining to our rights to privacy and property. Of course, this includes one's right to access personal information. In this legal domain, we meet issues relating to DNA sampling, possession of controversial items, and search and seizure.

Although the Charter of Rights and Freedoms offers Canadians a "guaranteed protection" of privacy rights, interpretations of the Charter are tempered by a consideration of the public's right to security.

From the privacy of your own room or from your school's computer lab, let's begin to explore some of the dilemmas that confront us as the individual's right to privacy and the public's right to know intersect. This site is divided into three main sections: the privacy within the domestic domain, privacy within the public domain and legal aspects of privacy.

Quotation 4

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Last Updated: 29-Mar-2004