Was it “Give me privacy, or give me death!”?

If you are aware of the philosophy behind the famous The Twilight Zone anthology series created by Rod Serling in the 1960s and then revived in the 1980s you can see what a terrible world we could actually live in.  If you don’t remember this show, I will tell you a little bit about it in order for you to grasp my analogy with the title of this post.

The Twilight Zone is a story in which men live in a sort of gray area in which almost everything (real or fantastic) can occur.  It a mixture of fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and horror that often concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist.  This idea caught my attention when I read the New York Times last weekend.  The title of the article read: “When American and European Ideas of Privacy Collide” and it explored the worth of the ideas of Liberty and Privacy, and of how both terms had a different worth in the codes of values of Americans and Europeans.  As the article read, European courts believed and interpreted customs by acknowledging that the right of an individual to privacy was above the right of any individual to freedom of speech.  As such, the framework in Europe is that of “privacy as a human-dignity right,” while in the U.S. it is only enforced as a  “consumer-protection right.”

It seems that the reason why privacy has such an important stand in European legislation goes back to Nazi Germany.  Fred H. Cate, a law professor at Indiana University explains that “The privacy protections we see reflected in modern European law are a response to the Gestapo and the Stasi” and in the way they kept under surveillance their citizens during the hardest times of the national-socialist government.

While there are historical precedents for this change of perspective, its justification is philosophical.  European Constitutional law regards in the Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights that, “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”  This means that an individual in Europe can be free only if he doesn’t violate whatever is to considered private by someone.

It is in that article of the European Convention of Human Rights that the philosophical dilemma exists.  Who’s to determine what privacy, and a violation of it, actually is will depend on the case by case evaluation of evidence regarding a demand.  As such, in Europe men are free only if they do not violate what a privileged group will consider to be private or not.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution on the other hand, regards freedom of speech as one of the most important rights of men.  As such, It considers it is considered by American framework that an individual’s right to free speech is necessary for him to claim that his rights to privacy have been violated.  The article reads,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

To consider of privacy as a right above an individuals’ right to speech will take us into a horrendous time travel fantasy of sorts in which men will not be free at all to speak their minds.  It will only allow for a -Twilight Zone- world in which the interests of a small group of privileged men, corporations and corrupts will be protected and enforced by government.  Government will then be able of practicing censorship to those individuals that they consider to have violated someone’s privacy.  It will open the doors to a fantasy world in which a men would have never been able of screaming like Patrick Henry did in March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia,

Give me Liberty, or give me Death!