The right to privacy is the basis of the constitutional values and the underlying idea behind the several amendments. Privacy is essential for the social welfare and is required for the proper functioning and performance of the society. From the other side, no security can exist without some government intrusion of privacy and individual privacy can be neglected if compared to the welfare of the whole society. John Locke argued that every citizen has the natural rights which cannot be given to him or denied by the ruler. Even though for John Locke the right to property was paramount, in his short writing “The Second Treatise of Government” he makes indirect referencing to the right to privacy. Similarly, there is nothing said about the right to privacy in the Bill of Right. However, this document endows the right to privacy as fundamental.
The debate over the issue of privacy can be narrowed to the arguments over the governmental intrusion into the private life of citizens. John Locke wrote in “The Second Treatise of Government” that every man has the property in his own person and this nobody has any right to but himself (Stephens, from http://www.johnlocke.org/about/legacy.html). This view of the right to property can be expanded to include the right to privacy. Locke’s perception of human rights has become the essence of the political freedom and privacy. What exactly did he mean by the right to property? Locke believed that government is not eligible to benefit from one’s labor or intellect without compelling public need. Human life, his work and ideas were all united into one concept by Locke – the right to property. At the time he wrote his “The Second Treatise of Government”, there was no need to protect the free speech, the freedom of assembly against the government. For this reason, the aim of his writing was “for the mutual preservation of the human lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name ‘property’” (Stephens, from http://www.johnlocke.org/about/legacy.html).
According to John Locke, the natural liberties of man, including the right to privacy, are free from any form of government. The liberties of citizens are under no other legislative power but the one established by consent in the commonwealth. Locke provides the definition of the right to privacy: “it is not the liberty to live as you please, to do what you list and not to be tied by any laws. It is the freedom of people under the government to have the sound rule to live by common for every member of society” (Simmons, p. 64).
“The Second Treatise of Government” is the illustration of the important tenets of liberalism including the individualism and certain rights such as right to property and other freedoms; materialism (the desire to have material goods and protect these gains against the government is the natural law); faith in human reason and ability to make logical choice; and faith in the market as the mean to distribute the goods for the Commonwealth of society. (Locke, p. 360-70). Nevertheless, it can be noted that Locke has not directly argued for the right to privacy in his writings. He wrote that if the man is the absolute ruler of his own person and possessions if he is the subject to nobody, why the vast majority of the population is striving to be the part of the community where some level of privacy has to be declined. Therefore, even though the individuals have the right to privacy, the enjoyment of this right is uncertain and his freedoms are unavoidably invaded by others. For example, if the man has big property but here is no strict observation of equity and justice in the society, this man might find himself in the very unsafe and insecure condition (Locke, p. 380).
In order to explain his concept of liberty, Locke has adopted the strategy to consider what life is in the absence of civil government. In the second chapter of “The Second Treatise of Government”, Locke described the state of political equality in which no one is superior to others (Simmons, p. 54). Even though such situation is impossible in reality, it helps to understand the need for social structure and political authority in order to protect justice and human rights. This assumption of Locke has become the foundation of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Whether or not the Constitution guarantees the right to privacy has been debated. Even though the privacy is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights and there is no such Constitutional right, it is argued that the privacy right is guaranteed by Bill of Rights.
The Fourth Amendment guarantees the rights of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated. According to the Bill of Rights, the right to privacy is the right to be considered as natural. For example, one of the Supreme Court interpretations of this right included the women’s right to have access to birth control and abortions. The right to privacy is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights and it has been granted by the combination of the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments. Today, the right to privacy protects the rights of females, the rights of homosexuals as well as the right to die (Brigham, p. 32).
Privacy is not only at the basis of the constitutional values, but the underlining factor behind several of amendments. Though the word is not specifically used within the constitution or the Bill of Rights, the fact that it is hinted behind most of its principles tells that privacy was actually the guiding factor that led to the forming of the many important laws that govern the American society today. Such examples include the third amendment that states that people cannot be required to quarter soldiers during peacetime. This amendment was established to protect not only our privacy but also the security as individuals. Therefore, the privacy is actually used to promote societal welfare. Another such example lies in our fourth amendment which protects not only a person’s property from unreasonable searches and seizures but also our privacy in the process. In addition, the ninth amendment clearly states, “any rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution are also guaranteed against government infringement.” Undeniable on any moral grounds, privacy is a right relevant to that constitutional law, making it morally unjust if the government chooses to disregard a person’s right to privacy in favor of the majority (Brigham, p. 119).
Moreover, according to the Bill of Rights privacy is essential to societal welfare. Privacy rights are not only a form of liberty but also the means necessary to maintain a person’s security within society. For example, within society there are privileged relationships between one’s doctor, lawyer, or psychologist, which must be built on a foundation of trust and right to privacy. Personal information should not be open to the eyes of the public because such an act would take away the granted freedom and possibly promote discrimination. If forced to reveal such private information, the possibility of acquiring a job without at least receiving some degree of prejudice would be impossible. Therefore, privacy rights are not only established to protect one’s liberty but one’s security as well. This conclusion can be logically drawn from Locke’s writings and the Bill of Rights.
Finally, Locke noted that privacy is essential for the functioning and performance of the society. The Bill of Rights, as the document based on the writings of Locke, clearly notes that the right to privacy, the right to keep actions and personal affairs private is a necessary function of a democratic society. Moreover, if the nation is dedicated to liberty and justice, it is unreasonable to suspend even one person’s rights leaving the whole nation vulnerable.
In conclusion, the right to privacy commonly understood as the essential part of human life. Neither Locke, Bill of Rights nor Constitution, contain the reference to the specific procedural protections, people know that what is privacy and are confident in the constitutional protection. Locke has based his argumentation about human rights on the right to property that can be directly related to the right to privacy. Bill of rights examines the liberties and freedoms of citizens, their equality in law and protection that not only does not exclude the right to privacy but also add to it. Of course, each individual has the different interpretation of Locke’s writings and Bill of Rights, however, everybody agrees that the right to privacy is the natural right and cannot be denied by the government or the third party. Of course, as any other right it has some limits and some level of intrusion can be justified. The right to privacy was introduced hundreds of years ago, but its essence has remained the same.
Brigham, John. Civil Liberties and American Democracy, CQ Press, 1984 ed.
Locke, John. Two Treatises of Government. Cambridge University Press, 1989 ed.
Simmons, John. The Lokean Theory of Rights. Princeton University Press, 1992 ed.
Stephens, George. John Locke: His American and Carolinian Legacy. Locke Foundation. 8 February 2007 <http://www.johnlocke.org/about/legacy.html)
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