Monday, May 6, 2013

Posner on Privacy

Judge Posner has been making some waves recently after he published an op-ed on his skeptical view of privacy. In Posner's view, "there is a tendency to exaggerate the social value of privacy":
I value my privacy as much as the next person, but there is a difference between what is valuable to an individual and what is valuable to society. Thirty-five years ago, when I was a law professor rather than a judge, I published an article called “The Right of Privacy,” in which I pointed out that “privacy” is really just a euphemism for concealment, for hiding specific things about ourselves from others.
We conceal aspects of our person, our conduct and our history that, if known, would make it more difficult for us to achieve our personal goals. We don’t want our arrest record to be made public; our medical history to be made public; our peccadilloes to be made public; and so on. We want to present sanitized versions of ourselves to the world. We market ourselves the way sellers of consumer products market their wares — highlighting the good, hiding the bad.
To understand Posner on privacy,you need to know only one fact: Judge Posner has made public (by publishing!) literally every thought that has ever crossed his mind. (Here is his 170-page CV.)

He has published most of his thoughts many times. His views on privacy are a good example. As he points out, he first started making this argument about how privacy is just a euphemism for concealment 35 years ago! And if you just do a Google search, you'll find a transcript of a Big Think interview from 2007 where he says, well, pretty much the same stuff word-for-word:
No. I value my privacy as much as anyone.  But I think as a social good, a social aspect, I think privacy is greatly overrated because privacy basically means concealment.  People conceal things in order to fool other people about them.  They want to appear healthier than they are, smarter, more honest and so forth.  I mean I’m exaggerating some, but I think it’s very much a double-edged sword, from a social standpoint.  That’s number one.
Another example: Not too long ago Mr. Gillette posted about a recent Posner opinion on the wisdom of imprisoning old people, and it reminded me of a case I read in law school. When I went to look it up, sure enough there was Posner, 25 years ago, writing essentially the same opinion.

Point is, Posner is not normal. He has chosen a ridiculously public life. His views on privacy are about as relevant to me as Mr. Spock's. And Mr. Spock doesn't even exist.

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