- Elgar European Law series
Chapter 8: Data protection and privacy
Privacy, as a modern European understands it, is the ability to withhold information about oneself or, put differently, the ability to have a secluded sphere of life and to select which parts of one’s life will be public. Historically, a ‘private’ person was one that did not participate in the public life.1 The term was often taken as a pejorative, as an indication of the person’s unwillingness to participate or lack of capacity to. Privacy as a desire to keep one’s life from public view only became a value and was legally protected recently.2 Until late into the twentieth century the ability to guard one’s life from the view of others was rudimentary and enjoyed by the few. This was not because the potential to violate it was absent, but rather because it was omnipresent. In addition, one’s life took place in public, on streets, squares and markets, and people were expected to participate in it even before most were accorded the right to vote. An average nineteenth- century European or American would be familiar with the need and importance of confidentiality, understood as a right to protect information one guards in secrecy, but would have difficulties with the notion that non-confidential information may also be private. Modern privacy law is still locked into this paradigm of privacy as secrecy.3 In the modern age, as life retreated from squares into offices, houses and institutions, privacy became a protected value, and with it came the potential and desire to invade it.
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