History of Privacy


Discussion on privacy issues is as old as mankind. Starting with the protection of one’s body and home, it soon evolved in the direction of controlling one’s personal information. In 1891, the American lawyers Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis described the right to privacy in a famous article: it is the right to be let alone. In 1967 a new milestone was reached with the publication of Alan Westin’s Privacy and Freedom when he defined privacy in terms of self determination: privacy is the claim of individuals, groups, or institutions to determine for themselves when, how, and to what extent information about them is communicated to others.

History of privacy makes clear that there is a strong relationship between privacy and the development of technology. The modern discussion started with the use of cameras and went on to include the development and use of computers in an information society in which personal data on every individual is collected and stored. Not only is it a great concern that privacy is eroding but also that we are entering a surveillance society. This loss of privacy seems to be even more the case since the protection of privacy is strongly dependant upon the political will to protect it. Since 9/11, however, this political will world-wide is oriented more toward the effective and efficient use of technology in the battle against criminality and terrorism than it is toward protecting privacy. Therefore it is time to re-evaluate the use of technology and the protection of privacy. It is not only privacy that is at stake but above all democracy.