Privacy and speech

Two notable decisions in Europe reflect the tension between privacy and free speech.

The European Court of Human Rights came down on the side of press freedom — thus speech — when it ruled in favor of media reporting on public figures. And a Dutch German court ruled that journalists had a right to interview a Nazi murderer with hidden cameras.

This tension is addressed but only glancingly in the EU’s proposed rules on privacy, which create vague carve-outs for journalism, history, and scientific research.

What none of this acknowledges at a more fundamental level the right we have to talk about someone else (with carve-outs for libel and slander already in the law) — not just the press and not just public figures. If you tell me I must forget you and erase what I have said about you, then you affect my speech. If you reveal something to me and I interact with that information and then you claim the right to pull back your information, then we must debate about who has rights to the results of our interaction (whether that is a conversation or a transaction).

Privacy isn’t as simple as some of its advocates would lead us to believe. It is interweaved with other rights and interactions.

I’ve been studying the full proposed EU privacy regulations and now I’m going through ancillary documents. I’ll be writing more about this soon.

  • Perhaps the biggest impact commentators can have on the public – private debate is to maintain an awareness, in everyone involved (policy makers through to “ordinary” people) of the complexity of the issues to be resolved in this arena. If people keep thinking that public – private is a simple dichotomy then we will get simplistic rules and policies that simply will not work. It is one instance, I suspect, where the KISS principle does not apply. Keep the commentaries coming Jeff, we need them!

  • Lenore Goldsholle

    Jarvis claims we need to give up such a silly old thing like our privacy and innermost thoughts so his buddies in the field of High Technology can make profits over these useless and cancer-causing gadgets. Why do you think Steve Jobs came down with cancer, he was friggin attached to these dangerous gadgets all day every day for decades.

    • 1. I claim no such thing.
      2. Your claim on technology is ridiculous.
      3. Enjoy the cave.