Let me start by pointing out that there is no such thing as a monolithic right to privacy. Period, no ifs ands or buts. There is a basic confusion between a general right to be left alone from government interference and the folklore surrounding the issue of privacy. At least in the United States, my experience is that people generally expect that they are entitled to a higher level of privacy than any existing laws protect.
Let me give one preliminary, quick example. Let's suppose you were involved in a court case such as a divorce or other family law matter. Let's further suppose that you were involved in a deposition or giving testimony in open court. Imagine that the attorney for the opposing side asked you a very embarrassing and private, personal question right there in public in the court or deposition. Would you be required to answer the question? Without coming up with a specific question and circumstance, I can still say that you will likely be surprised at what could be asked in a court proceeding. You may think your life is private but you would be astonished to find out the judge might not agree with you.
There is much legal and more common social confusion about the concept of privacy. One early statement leading up to the concept was made by Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, later a Supreme Court Judge. The following is an excerpt from the Harvard Law Review, Vol. IV, December 15, 1890, No. 5
That the individual shall have full protection in person and in property is a principle as old as the common law; but it has been found necessary from time to time to define anew the exact nature and extent of such protection. Political, social, and economic changes entail the recognition of new rights, and the common law, in its eternal youth, grows to meet the new demands of society. Thus, in very early times, the law gave a remedy only for physical interference with life and property, for trespasses vi et armis. Then the "right to life" served only to protect the subject from battery in its various forms; liberty meant freedom from actual restraint; and the right to property secured to the individual his lands and his cattle. Later, there came a recognition of man's spiritual nature, of his feelings and his intellect. Gradually the scope of these legal rights broadened; and now the right to life has come to mean the right to enjoy life, -- the right to be let alone; the right to liberty secures the exercise of extensive civil privileges; and the term "property" has grown to comprise every form of possession -- intangible, as well as tangible.I don't think that very many people equate the modern concept of privacy with the idea of a "right to be let alone." Here is a further quote from Warren and Brandeis, remember this was written in 1890:
Three interrelated concepts are relevant in this discourse:Wada points out that the confusion arises because the word "privacy" is used to mean all three issues. There is a further issue when we confuse the concept of government involvement with personal interrelationships. In other words, we talk about privacy in our day to day communications with friends and family members, but the legal concern of privacy is more of concern with government or at least outside interference rather than simply disclosing personal or family matters.
- Privacy as a civil liberty: safeguarding the privacy of individuals, which speaks to Brandeis's "right to be let alone" — freedom from surveillance, from Big Brother, and from the monitoring of behavior
- Data protection: safeguarding the confidentiality of information about individuals
- Security: safeguarding the infrastructure — the systems and networks — that hold and transport electronic data and communications
There is a difference between disclosing something about an argument you had with a family member and your bank account information or medical history.
I promise to get to the impact privacy concerns have on genealogical research, but you might have to have some patience. Meanwhile, you might want to think about what you believe privacy to be and why you believe what you do. Why do you think you have a right to privacy?