The right to privacy unveiled

San Diego Law Review 44 (1):773-799 (2007)
The vast majority of philosophers and legal theorists who have thought about the issue agree that there is such a thing as a moral right to privacy. However, there is little or no theoretical consensus about the nature of this right. According to reductionists, the right to privacy amounts to nothing more than a cluster of property rights and rights over the person, and therefore plays no autonomous explanatory role in moral theory (Thomson 1975, Davis 1959). Among non-reductionists, there are almost as many accounts of the right to privacy as there are synagogues in the old town of Jerusalem. For one group of non-reductionists (perhaps the majority), the right to privacy is properly understood as a right of control, a form of autonomy. Within this group, some think that the right to privacy is the right to control information about oneself (Westin 1967, Beardsley 1971, Gerstein 1978, Fried 1970, Moore 2003), while others insist that it is the right to control access to oneself (Parker 1974, Scanlon 1975, Rachels 1975, Reiman 1976, Van den Haag 1971). For another group of non-reductionists, the right to privacy is the right to cognitive and/or physical inaccessibility (Gavison 1980, Garrett 1974, Allen 1988). Though these are by far the most widely adopted non-reductionist accounts of the relevant right, they are by no means the only ones currently on offer. There are hybrid accounts according to which the right to privacy is a cluster of various rights of control (Inness 1992) or a cluster of various rights of control and restricted access (DeCew 1997). And according to an influential “information-based” account, the right to privacy 1 is defined as the right that others not possess undocumented personal information about the right-holder (Parent 1983a; 1983b). The purpose of this paper is to bring some order to this theoretical chaos. On my view, none of these accounts of the right to privacy is accurate..
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