Privacy as the Enemy

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Revision as of 11:49, 30 March 2020 by Tom (talk | contribs) (Solutions)

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No right, especially a right so nebulous as privacy, is absolute. Privacy as the Enemy discusses some of the pathology of too much privacy.


  • Privacy was unknown in tribal society. If you wanted to be alone, you would just walk away from the group, and rejoin when you were ready. The wiki page Privacy deals in more detail with the concept from the 1880's to the current time.
  • The tension between individual rights an Civil Society is not new, it was understood by the ancient Greeks and the enlightenment philosophers.
  • Public citizens demand transparency and want to know when a threat is in the neighborhood. When that threat is caused by some person's illness or behavior, privacy concerns are always raised. Amid calls for more transparency, a debate is raging among public health experts over how much data on the spread of the virus should be released.[1] Privacy appears to be winning.


Rather than discuss the theoretical or philosophical challenges of privacy, this section will simply outline some of the challenges that are faced in a modern technologically sophisticated society.

  • When NIV/AIDS was first diagnosed, it was a major social stigma. Old public health solutions did not result in any significant level of control of the disease. It was found in this case that more privacy for the victims resulted in better outcomes.
  • Now with the advent of HIPAA and COPPA, the user has legal rights to keep certain classes of data private. In this case more privacy improved the Common Good.
  • More that 2 months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA is blocking the use of existing tests because the person tested gave permission for the test taken in a research study of the flu, and not for a test for what was the the non-existance COVID-19 virus, according to The New York Times[2] In this case more privacy blocked the obvious answer.


  • Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
  • It seems to be to much to ask for a government bureaucrat to use common sense, but perhaps the chief executive could declare an emergency and do the right thing.


  1. Thomas Fuller, Crisis Pits Patient Privacy Against Public’s Need to Know. New York Times (2020-02-30) p. A14
  2. Sheri Fink +1, A Lab Pushed for Early Tests, but Federal Officials said No. aka ‘It’s Just Everywhere Already’: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response The New York Times (2020-03-11) p. A1ff