Privacy; what does it mean and what is it for?

The topic of this week’s F4TFriday is ‘privacy’ – a topic most dear to my heart and one on which I could go on for ages (don’t worry, I’ll try and keep it pertinent).

What does this word even mean? It’s not the same as secrecy or ownership – although it’s often mistakenly used that way. In human rights law, privacy is personal space – not just physically but also in terms of family life, thoughts, relationships, decisions and actions. Obviously it’s not an absolute right, as sometimes the needs of a civilised society will override those of the individual – such as for law enforcement, public health, people’s safety and the like, but the starting point is “don’t interfere with me unless I invite you to or there’s a damn good reason why you should.”

So, privacy is really all about boundaries. Where my interests or rights collide with yours, and how they interact. It’s not a fixed enclosure, some people are more open to being interfered with than others, and we mostly accept that some people need to be interfered with for the protection of others.

We in the kink and sex-positive communities are pretty damn keen on respecting boundaries, and rightly so. Communication, negotiation, consent – all these are ways we mediate our interacting needs for privacy with our, and others’ desires. In the physical space, this is relatively straightforward (“please don’t touch me unless I invite you to do so”) but in the abstract world of digital encounters, it can be harder to perceive and establish where those boundaries lie – especially since there’s a whole industry out there dedicated to tracking us, trying to get into our heads and direct our actions like parasitic wasps (warning: horror) for profit and power.

(More about this, and how to protect yourself/others).

Unfortunately there are more threats to privacy right now than there are incentives to protect it, both for ourselves and for others. Standing up for privacy is hard work, it means swimming against the tide of grabby, ruthless surveillance capitalism, weighing up benefits against harms, and deciding how much of a damn you’re prepared to give about others, to your own cost.

Publishing my thoughts, stories and pictures is not ‘giving up my privacy’, no-one is entitled to anything more than to read, look and enjoy. Yes, I post about topics many people would consider ‘private’ by their own/socially-defined boundaries; but by publishing this content I haven’t erased my boundaries, merely set them in a different location.

Privacy is the dividing line between what you can do and what you should[n’t] do to other people. Some people look to the law for what they can get away with doing, others look to their values for what they feel comfortable doing.

If we lived in a perfect world of wholly virtuous angels, we might not need privacy because no-one would be trying to exploit us, manipulate us, take advantage of us, or even control us ‘for our own good’….but we’re human – biased, ego-driven, susceptible humans – and so even when our motivations are benign, our actions can still be harmful. We need privacy rights to protect us from each other, we must fight for those rights when we see them threatened, we have to exercise those rights for ourselves and for others, or they’ll wither away to the detriment of us all.

7 thoughts on “Boundaries

  1. Powerful post Zebra and I so agree we must fight for things like privacy and daily it is becoming increasingly hard to know when we are not being spied upon. It does make me want to turn the clocks back x

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