Double standards in privacy

In recent years, we’ve talked a lot more about privacy than we used to. It might be the PATRIOT Act, the Internet or Ron Paul behind the surge in discourse about it, but it’s there.

The idea of a constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy is found in the Third and Fourth Amendments. From my perspective, I think that right is limited, but for those of you who want to say it extends to reproductive rights and what you check out at the library, I guess that’s okay too.

This isn’t a debate about how far our privacy rights extend. This is a debate about the double standard surrounding privacy.

As citizens, most people generally consider their right to privacy very important. Medical records, tax returns, Internet search histories, phone records, high school grades, sexual orientation and political affiliation are among the things we expect to remain private information.

We don’t want the government or other people in our business. It’s our personal, private information that should only be shared at our discretion.

But there’s a problem. In reality, we only accept this benchmark for ourselves.

Think about a couple of examples. When applying for a job you would be irate if your prospective employer demanded your tax returns, yet Mitt Romney is facing heavy criticism for not publishing his tax returns because he’s running for president.

It’s not a legal requirement, but many people are clamoring to see how he makes his money and how much he has. Seems to me that that is his private business as much as your returns are your private business.

But this isn’t just a political issue about financial records. Look around the supermarket checkout lines and notice the number of gossip magazines.

There is a massive market for private information about public people. We want to hear the details of Brad Pitt’s marriage and invade Lindsay Lohan’s personal meltdown by hearing about her drug problems and legal troubles.

It doesn’t stop there. This isn’t just politicians and public figures. Notice how many websites exist to track down people and find out their information. You can’t spend an evening watching television without an ad for a company that helps you find old classmates.

But it’s more than that. How many of you reading this can honestly admit you haven’t spent time Facebook “creeping/stalking?” We’re so hungry for details about other people, but demand our personal information be protected.

Taken together, it’s a massively hypocritical situation. We demand that everyone else put their cards on the table, but we won’t even admit to holding any cards.

Why do we deserve to know about Mitt Romney’s taxes? Anyone who says he needs to release his returns better be publishing theirs. If you’re flipping through a gossip magazine, start sending bad angle bikini pictures and photos of you cheating on your spouse to everyone in your community.

If you spend your time searching through people’s online pages, you shouldn’t have yours set to “private.”

It’s a Golden Rule issue. Why are you allowed more privacy than everyone else, whether they are a public figure or not?

Running for president or starring in a movie doesn’t eliminate someone’s expectation of privacy.

If you want your information to be kept private, you better be willing to respect other people’s privacy as well.

This is an important problem that we aren’t really talking about. Privacy problems these days seem to revolve around the government and their potential surveillance of suspected terrorists, but it’s more troubling as an individual issue.

I do not care what the government knows about me. Some people might be worried about a “1984” type state, but I’m not. My life is not interesting enough to be worrying about someone at the NSA or FBI watching me in a way that would make me uncomfortable.

The problem is the voyeuristic nature of our society suggests we ought to be able to know things about everyone else. If you want privacy, start respecting other people’s privacy more seriously.

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