privacy and advantage

I was speaking to Jess last week, who is a biotechnological law ethicist. She said “What is privacy? What kind of thing is it? Why do we want it?”. I said – and I don’t know if I entirely believe this, but it is what came out – privacy is a concern to keep things unknown so as to protect future advantage. Some things we don’t want others to find out because it might disadvantage us in the future. Because there is no use only keeping important things secret – if you did this it gives away what is an isn’t important, which is half of the advantage. The other factor which works to bring things into the realm of privacy is that the future is uncertain. You can’t know with any precision what will and won’t be decisive in the future, so you need to keep more private now, just in case. One of the proximate mechanisms that results from the (evolutionary) logic of privacy is embarrassment. Just because, I claim, privacy is a result of supra-personal logic doesn’t mean that it isn’t a real human need, nor, for that matter that there shouldn’t be legal protections against our embarrassment.

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