A Stand for Privacy

Submitted by Benjamin on Mon, 08/19/2013 - 03:39

Geoffrey Fisher once said, “There is a sacred realm of privacy for every man and woman where he makes his choices and decisions – a realm of his own essential rights and liberties into which the law, generally speaking, must not intrude.” This statement truly sums up the essence and the value of this oft-misunderstood value we refer to as privacy. It is “a realm of … rights and liberties” and as such, we would do well to protect it from the constantly intruding arm of government.

Yet unfortunately, this privacy, so often misused, so often forgotten, is, in the current situation, drastically undervalued.

In order for us to understand the full implications of this, we must begin by gaining an understanding of certain key terms. The first of these, of course, is privacy. The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary provides an excellent definition of privacy that we will use, claiming that privacy is “freedom from unauthorized intrusion.” This definition takes immediate effect, for we understand by this that the individual cannot undervalue his own privacy, for any intrusion that the individual authorizes is clearly not unauthorized intrusion.

The second word to define is “undervalued”, “to value, rate, or estimate below the real worth.” Intrinsic in this definition is the idea that values (such as life, courage, love, property, liberty, and privacy) do in fact have objective worth. Hence, in the statement that privacy is undervalued, it is implied that privacy therefore ought to be valued more highly. Thus, we are not merely arguing that a certain situation exists (i.e. that privacy is undervalued), but also that a certain course of action ought to be pursued (i.e. privacy ought to be valued more highly). These aspects are so closely interrelated that it is impossible to prove the one without proving the other. If privacy is undervalued, then, by definition, it ought to be valued more highly, and in the same way, if privacy ought to be valued more highly, then, by definition, it is undervalued.

But in order to prove either of these points, we need an objective standard that will help us to, first, determine the proper value of privacy, and second, to determine whether privacy ought in fact to be valued more highly. The specific standard that we will incorporate here will be liberty. Again, for clarity, it is important for us to define our terms. We may define liberty as “freedom from arbitrary government.”

We will argue later that the true value of privacy is best measured by the standard of liberty. But before we advance into these arguments, we must first determine that liberty is actually an acceptable standard by an examination of the worth of liberty.

As we examine the value of liberty, we find, first, that liberty is an intrinsic value, for its value does not proceed from anything that it achieves, but rather is found in and of itself. Indeed, so fundamentally valuable is liberty that men throughout history have laid down their very lives in order to secure liberty for themselves and their posterity. Patrick Henry, in perhaps the most famous expression of liberty’s value, claimed, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” The evidence of Patrick Henry and others like him cannot be denied, for, in order to secure the blessings of liberty, they paid the ultimate price, and their testimony will not keep silent.

But one might ask What has liberty to do with privacy? Much indeed! For when some fail to properly value our freedom from intrusion, the door is opened to overt and arbitrary control by any who desire such control. A loss of privacy in essence leads to tyranny.

Consider Hitler’s Germany. After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in January 1933, individuals quickly lost their right to privacy, officials freely examining the correspondence of the people, listening in on telephone conversations, and invading private homes, all without any warrant.

This invasion of privacy enabled Hitler to gain total control over the German people, controlling all that they could read or write, and thus, in effect, controlling their very thoughts. Lack of privacy brought about this terrible tyranny.

And this is not the only occasion that a lack of privacy has brought about such tyranny. In Eastern Europe, millions of people lost all semblance of liberty as Stalin proceeded to make himself absolute ruler of Russia. During his regime, Stalin slaughtered ten to fifty million people, some by starvation, others simply shot. Stalin set ridiculously unattainable production quotas, and any who failed to produce “enough” lost everything they owned. Any who spoke against this terrible regime faced imprisonment, torture, and death.

How did Stalin maintain such a tyrannical hold on Russia? The answer is in his massive network of spies. Secret police, swarmed through Russia, spying on and encouraging others to spy on citizens, looking for any possible signs of rebellion or dislike of Stalin or Stalin’s way. Privacy was virtually nonexistent, and it became impossible to travel anywhere without somebody watching one’s every movement. We see clearly that the only way in which a tyrant can become a true tyrant, with total control and power over the populace is through a total rejection of the privacy of the people.

On the other hand, a protection of privacy brings about greater liberty. When privacy is valued, no man can come and arbitrarily coerce or restrain our choices or actions. Clearly the founding fathers saw this, for throughout the Bill of Rights, they granted protection to the privacy of Americans: the first amendment’s protection of the privacy of beliefs, the third amendment’s protection of the privacy of the home, and the fourth amendment’s protection of the privacy of person and possessions. How true the words of the great patriot James Otis, “A man’s house is his castle.” Only in our privacy, the privacy of our homes, the privacy of our thoughts, the privacy of our persons, the privacy of our beliefs can we find protection for our rights and liberties. When privacy falls, liberty will soon follow.

But consider now what state we have fallen into today. The United States government has rejected the privacy of its citizens as null and now actively monitors its people. Michael McFarland writes, “The FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security also have many programs to monitor citizens in general, not just those who are under suspicion. These efforts include sifting through media references, tracking chatter on social networks, and monitoring peoples' movements through license plate scanners and video cameras.”

According to the ACLU, “In the wake of 9/11, mass surveillance has become one of the U.S. government’s principal strategies for protecting national security. Over the past decade, the government has asserted sweeping power to conduct dragnet collection and analysis of innocent Americans’ telephone calls and e-mails, web browsing records, financial records, credit reports, and library records. The government has also asserted expansive authority to monitor Americans’ peaceful political and religious activities.” The government, in an attempt to provide for our security, has totally disregarded the privacy of its citizens, throwing out our liberties in the name of security.

But some have argued that this trade is one of necessity, claiming that we must, at times, sacrifice our liberties in order to be secure. Consider the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Sacrificing liberty in order to preserve safety is futile, for in releasing liberty to grasp safety, they are both lost. Dr. Robert Higgs put it brilliantly when he wrote, “placing confidence in the government to function as savior or problem solver does not lead to the peace, prosperity, and safety that people crave. On the contrary, that misplaced confidence ultimately leads to tyranny and diminished security—in Benjamin Franklin’s words, ‘Neither liberty nor safety.’”

Dwight D. Eisenhower makes clear the foolishness of valuing this “safety” over freedom when he says, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking... is freedom.”

Yet this is exactly what our government seeks to do with us: provide for our safety by sending us to prison. And the means by which it does so is through the destruction of privacy.

According to William Binney, a former official with the National Security Agency, trillions of phone calls, emails and other messages sent by U.S. citizens have been intercepted by the government. In fact, in an interview with Democracy Now, Binney claimed that the government currently possesses copies of almost all emails sent and received in the United States.

The Watson Institute reported, “the FBI’s ‘Joint Terrorism Task Forces’ and the Defense Department’s base ‘protection’ staff have monitored peace groups with absolutely no tie to Al Qaeda, including pacifist Quakers and Catholics at the Thomas More Center in Pennsylvania. Under the guise of monitoring ‘terrorists,’ federal and state agents have also monitored anti-nuclear activists and Pennsylvania residents concerned about the threat unregulated oil shale drilling poses to their water supply.”

Indeed, this surveillance is often undertaken despite laws set up to limit just such monitoring. From the same report from the Watson Institute, “Despite the FISA law, shortly after 9/11 the Bush Administration began monitoring Americans’ communications and conversations without FISA warrants and in violation of FISA’s individualized protections. For four years, the administration publicly claimed it had obtained warrants for all monitoring activities.” The article closed with these ominous words, “Americans have never lived in an environment where their everyday actions—so many of which are conducted electronically—may fall under such potentially intense and far-reaching scrutiny.”

The USA PATRIOT Act is perhaps the most notorious form this surveillance has taken. New Mexico’s Governor Gary Johnson described the Act well when he claimed, “Ten years ago, we learned that the fastest way to pass a bad law is to call it the ‘Patriot Act’ and force Congress to vote on it in the immediate wake of a horrible attack on the United States.”

Among the sweeping privileges granted in this tyrannical act were warrantless searches and continual monitoring. Jonathan Turley writes, “The president may now order warrantless surveillance, including a new capability to force companies and organizations to turn over information on citizens’ finances, communications and associations.” According to John Hockenberry, “the strategy since September 11th has been tap phones first, ask questions later.” This is the cost the government has claimed for our “security”, if security we can call it.

It should come as no surprise that drastic dictatorial powers accompanied this assault on privacy. In their pretence to “protect” us, they have started down the road well paved by the feet of Hitler and Stalin. Administration officials have affirmed the president’s right to order the assassination of any citizen whom he considers allied with terrorists, and this without any trial. The founding fathers fought and died to take just such arbitrary power out of the hands of tyrants. What will we do if the president decides that any political opponents are “abettors of terrorists”? As Ron Paul claimed, “We have established a policy that we can now assassinate American citizens…. Now that is a dictatorship.”

Justice William O. Douglas of the Supreme Court foresaw in 1966 the direction we were heading, declaring, “The privacy and dignity of our citizens are being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen -- a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a person's life.”

This is the society in which we find ourselves, a society in which the right to privacy is practically nonexistent. The words of Justice Douglas have been ominously fulfilled. Privacy clearly is undervalued, for the current low valuing of privacy has led to appalling infringement of liberty. The obligation to value privacy more highly is clear, for we find a distinct relationship between privacy and liberty: when one is violated, the other is sure to fall. If, as Ron Paul claimed, “The purpose of government is to protect the secrecy and the privacy of all individuals”, then we must hold our government accountable and hold them to their purpose, to protect our liberty through the preservation of our privacy.

For what price is too great to pay for liberty? “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Author's age when written


"The purpose of democracy is freedom...and that of tyranny, security." - Aristotle

"You cannot have a hundred percent privacy and a hundred percent security at the same time." - President Obama

Its crazy to think these things can even be true in this country! Awesome research, well written and organized, and a message we all need to hear.

"The purpose of democracy is freedom...and that of tyranny, security." - Aristotle

"You cannot have a hundred percent privacy and a hundred percent security at the same time." - President Obama

It's crazy to think that this is even possible in this country! Great research, well written and organized, and a message of utmost importance.

So in other words...you're saying that privacy is important and must be valued or else freedom will be taken away? And that you would die to have freedom/you would go to war so that would happen?

Other than that, this is an impressive essay.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

First, I would distinguish between freedom and liberty. As defined by Oxford Dictionaries, freedom is "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint." Thus, I would in fact argue that freedom should never be pursued.

Even with liberty, however, it depends on how you define it. As a Christian, I am inherently willing to throw away my liberty if it is simply defined as "freedom from arbitrary control." Christ has chosen me. He has bought me with His own blood. He is my sovereign and absolute Lord and Master and I have been made a slave to righteousness.

However, if we define liberty as "freedom from arbitrary government," then I think that I would fight and even die for liberty. Of course, I wouldn't seek freedom from arbitrary government in death. But to secure liberty to other persons? Yes. I would join the many other godly men, such as the Scottish Covenanters, who laid down their lives to secure liberty for their posterity.

And yes, I would fight in preservation of liberty. I do not think that we can pursue peace at the cost of liberty. If we turn to the Scottish Covenanters, we can find many who sought peace with all they had. Some, in order to keep this peace, swore allegiance to the King, accepting the King as sovereign over their beliefs and their very souls in their oath. Others, though they would not swear the oath, stood passively by as their families were imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered.

Of course, if at all possible, we should avoid fighting. But there are times when it cannot be avoided. And if ever it came to that point, I would fight.

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan

What does arbitrary mean? If I would take the definition of freedom and put it into liberty would it turn out like this - "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint from arbitrary control."? I'm kind of confused why you said freedom should never be pursued. Well, in general, I'm confused about most of what you said, so I'll try to restate it and you tell me if I got it right.

So you yourself would only fight to preserve liberty - not for yourself, but so all the future generations would not have to fight for it. One thing that might help my understanding of this - if you could briefly tell me about the Scottish Covenanters, because I don't know much about them.

Then the main question would be when do you think is a time where fighting cannot be avoided, why you think so, and if you think that killing other people in war is alright - do you think that fighting in a war for something is truly what Jesus would do? Is killing the way you love your enemies; doesn't it contradict the Ten Commandments and the way Jesus handled everything in the Crucifixion and when Peter cut off the ear of the guard in Gethesame?

Debating is not at all what I have in my mind. I just want to know your side.

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Arbitrary as I am using it here is " unrestrained and autocratic in the use of authority." And "freedom from" actually has a different meaning from simply "freedom." "Freedom from" is "the state of not being subject to or affected by." So liberty could be "the state of not being subject to or affected by government that is unrestrained or autocratic."

What I mean by freedom should never be pursued is that we should never seek the right to do whatever you want without any restraint. If we pursued freedom, then we are inherently seeking to rid ourselves of all restraint, including morality. This only leads to anarchy.

Alright let's see if I can put it more clearly. Essentially, I would fight for liberty, if fighting was necessitated. The Scottish Covenanters, I think, serves to illustrate what that looks like. Beginning with James I and continuing on through Charles I, Charles II, and James II, the kings of England became more and more autocratic, claiming to be the infallible, God-ordained, absolute rulers of England and Scotland. Yet, in order to gain this kind of autocratic control they desired, they also claimed the position of spiritual head of the Church, a position that the Covenanters felt belonged to Jesus Christ alone.

These Covenanters came together in 1638 and declared their determination to resist the claims of the King (at this time Charles I) to override the Crown Rights of the Redeemer of His Kirk. Covenanting ministers lost their positions though many still continued to preach in the open air. Many Covenanters attended these “conventicles” rather than their local churches (now headed by puppets of the King), even though the penalty for attending such meetings was death.

Any who did not attend their local churches could be questioned under torture and forced to swear an oath, declaring the King to be the head of the Church. Failure to swear such an oath led to immediate execution on the spot. This is a time where I think that fighting in order to maintain liberty would not be an option.

As for whether or not war is something Jesus would do, I believe that we have many records of God commanding war. Consider 1 Samuel 15. Even though killing and loving your enemy may seem contradictory, I think that there are occasions when the taking of life ought to be done. Consider the commands we find throughout the Scriptures. For example a murderer is to be killed (Gen. 9:6). Yes, we are told to love our enemies, to turn to him the other cheek. But what of a man’s responsibility to his family? Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” What then, ought a man to do when his family is tortured and imprisoned? Is he forbidden from protecting his wife and children?

Yes, I agree that Jesus did not strike back during his crucifixion. But what of His second coming when he returns, not as “gentle Jesus, meek and mild” but as a just and wrathful judge?

I hope this clarifies things somewhat.

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan

Okay. We have the Old Testament and the New. Jesus has come and he has fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17) He's brought change, a new law, and now we can come directly to him. Now we don't follow all these tedious rules to reach God through the High Priests, but we must work on changing our own hearts. This changing of our hearts is much harder to do than just outwardly follow rules.

The reason why I'm saying this is because yes, God commanded war. But that was in the Old Testament where if someone punched you, you can pretty much punch him back. But now, with Jesus coming and commanding us to love our enemies and to let them do evil to you again and again, it is different. Now we must love. In our hearts. Jesus has commanded it, and He's shown us how to do it through His own death.

A man is absolutely responsible for his family and he's to protect them. But you know who is protecting him and his family? God. Let's say someone has broken into our home and is about to kill us. Killing them back is not the way to love our enemies. Even if you are trying to protect yourself. There are other ways to protect. Such as fleeing, or making sacrifices. The father can say to the killer--kill me first; let them go. Or you can just run. Of you can't do that, pray.

God's Word does not contradict. He said to love your neighbor as yourself and love your enemies and not to kill. You don’t do one or the other. It’s not my job to kill people so they won’t kill anyone else. If it’s God’s will that I die and not my sisters…that should not be a problem. He’s the one who will judge. If I killed someone, when I meet God, I don’t think He’s going to say, “Well done.” I think He’s going to ask if I read and applied loving my enemies.
God’s in control.

When Jesus was crucified, He said – in all the tearing pain He was in (think of it!), “Father, forgive them.” He applied love all the way to the end of His life on earth. Don’t we serve a true and amazing God!

We are all sinners and no sin is greater than the other. So if I lie and another kills, it’s the same thing. God has given us a change to be like Him and to be holy. “…without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Jesus is coming back as a just judge, but that may be a little bit beside the point whether or not we fight, because He’s given us clear instructions on what to do.

When we take it upon ourselves to kill others (even in protecting others)– go against the Word, we’re not trusting in God who can do the seemingly impossible.

Jesus warned us many times that we are going to be persecuted. He does not say that to persecute those who persecute you. He said you can flee to one city to another, and He commanded us to pray for our prosecutors.
God lets people die, but imagine, if a follower of Christ has been persecuted, there should be great rejoicing – he would be walking with God right now!

Don’t think I just googled, “Why Mennonites practice non-resistance” and summarized it here. Because I never have. I took it upon myself last night to read through the Gospels. And this is what I’ve found. I’ve prayed to God to open up my heart, and not depend on what Mennonites, or Reformed or whatever anyone else says. And this is what I think the Bible is trying to say.

And I’ve just said most of my thoughts, and I know it’s unorganized and I really don’t want to debate further because let me ask you: in any of your debates (if I’m correct you’re a practiced debater), have you ever changed the other sides’ view or did the debates just go in circles?

I'm very sorry for not cutting this shorter!!

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you very much. This is actually an issue I have just begun considering over the past month or so. Over that time, I have argued myself into switching position numerous times. Since my stance on the issue is somewhat undecided, this "debate" (if you could call it that) has been very helpful in presenting me with the biblical reasons for one side. While I am not entirely convinced, I will definitely keep these reasons in mind as I continue to explore this issue. Again, thank you for taking the time to write down your thoughts.

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan

What do you mean? What position are you more leaning to now? Or more specifically, could you be a bit more specific about the "issue" you are talking about (I would hardly call it an issue) and what were you not so sure about yourself.

Thank you, you too because this "Debate" made me look into God's word. :)

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

I would say right now that I am undecided on the issue of whether or not Christians ought not to fight (I apologize for the double negative, but the sentence didn't make sense without it). I think that there are definitely legitimate reasons available on both sides of the argument.

“D’ye know what Calvary was? What? What? What? It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.”
~John Duncan

Well, then. No matter how surprised I am to find that you are not even sure, thank you for your humbleness and your honesty. I hope you will let God lead you as you seek the truth. Blessings! Megan

John 8: 31 - 32: To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

"It is not the length of life, but the depth of life." Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wow.... very.... very..... very... very..... long.... and ummm.... serious... uhh... that's all there is to say.. I guess..

"The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you."-When I Reach Me.