(2015) Philosophy & Public Affairs, 43, 1, pp 3-26
The right to privacy is a curious kind of right. Most people think that we have a general right to privacy. But when you look at the kind of issues that lawyers and philosophers label as concerns about privacy, you see widely differing views about the scope of the right and the kind of cases that fall under its purview.1 Consequently, it has become difficult to articulate the underlying interest that the right to privacy is there to protect—so much so that some philosophers have come to doubt that there is any underlying interest protected by it. According to Judith Thomson, for example, privacy is a cluster of derivative rights, some of them derived from rights to own or use your property, others from the right to your person or your right to decide what to do with your body, and so on. Thomson’s position starts from a sound observation, and I will begin by explaining why. The conclusion I will reach, however, is very different. I will argue that there is a general right to privacy grounded in people’s interest in having a reasonable measure of control over the ways in which they can present themselves (and what is theirs) to others. I will strive to show that this underlying interest justifies the right to privacy and explains its proper scope, though the scope of the right might be narrower, and fuzzier in its boundaries, than is commonly understood.
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