The power to deny information about yourself to another person. A form of secrecy dealing exclusively with personal knowledge, i.e., one's thoughts or feelings. Often, people behave differently when they are in private because they have some datum which they wish to conceal from the general public. There is also a physical aspect; people are many times more comfortable being naked in private, because they feel vulnerable and self-conscious about their bodies. This, however, could be said to stem from the need to hide one's insecurities from the scrutiny of others.

A much-contested legal term, social value and operational rule of government, for decades privacy has continued to elude a universally accepted definition. Every culture seems to regard it differently; even distinct social classes and generations within a society can approach the issue from varying angles.

Ask a ten-year old girl in suburban America who 'her privacy' needs protection from, and you'll get a very different (but equally valid) response than a 80-year old grandmother from a former Soviet state. What each version of 'privacy' will elucidate, however, is who is perceived to have knowledge about (and hence power over) an individuals' life. That is what privacy amounts to: individual control of knowledge about one's self.

To be clear, privacy is no 'contemporary' hang-up. This is a diversionary argument floated frequently in the tech / security fields; that privacy concerns have somehow erupted in the past decade, simply on account of social media, smart phones or Edward Snowden. Not only is that premise self-serving if one works in the bureaucracy of intelligence, it's also demonstrably false.

The Latin root of privacy is privatum, an enunciated principle of civil law as early as the Roman Republic under Cicero. Privacy was a constraint on government action inscribed into England's Magna Carta of 1215. And, perhaps most famously, the individual's right to privacy is there in the Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution.

Some of the more important books on the subject include Alan Westin, Privacy and Freedom (1967), David Flaherty, Protecting Privacy in Surveillance Societies (1989), Daniel Solove, Understanding Privacy (2008), Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide (2014) and Laura Donohue, Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age (2016).

300 words

Pri"va*cy (?), n.; pl. Privacies (#). [See Private.]


The state of being in retirement from the company or observation of others; seclusion.


A place of seclusion from company or observation; retreat; solitude; retirement.

Her sacred privacies all open lie. Rowe.


Concealment of what is said or done.



A private matter; a secret.



See Privity, 2.




© Webster 1913.

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