In 1776, the forefathers of the United States of America essentially wrote a constitution, a social contract, guaranteeing the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "In recent years, the right to privacy has been added to the short list of human rights (Grant). " According to Thomas Paine, man did not enter into society to become worse off than he was before or to have fewer rights than he had before, but instead, to have those rights he started with better secured.
According to the stipulations of the social contract agreed upon, the government provides national safety, public safety, public health, and civil rights/liberties in exchange for the fees necessary to provide these services and the ability to coerce citizens with punitive measures for breaking the codes of the contract. As long as a person poses no threat to the safety, health, and freedoms of any other citizen, then the government is obliged to honor all of the freedoms granted in the social contract.
To unlawfully invade one's privacy is to effectively rid them of their human dignity and effectively eliminate true freedom and democracy. Milan Kundera enters the discussion of privacy in Testaments Betrayed with a discussion of Jan Prochazka, a figure of great opposition to the government, whose conversations were secretly recorded and broadcasted over the radio. It was an "audacious, unprecedented act, and… instantly Prochazka was discredited. " Kundera asserts "that we act different in private than in public is…
the very ground of the life of the individual… the value one must defend beyond all others. " Referring to the publication of private conversation as "the rape of [Prochazka's] life," and making the distinction that this surveillance was unprecedented, Kundera argues that unless a person commits an act which provides solid evidence that he may be a threat to the social contract or the others governed under it, a person must be given complete freedom of privacy. As Harry S.
Truman said, even if one American who has don't nothing wrong is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth, then America as a whole is endangered. In eighth grade, I was involved in a situation in which I was promised privacy, but this privacy was taken from me, and my disclosures were used against me even though taken out of context. A substitute teacher allowed us to write letters to people we knew at another parochial school, promising that the letters would not be read by anybody, because she was going to be substituting there the next day and would be able to deliver them.
The next day, my parents received a call that I was suspended and that I would have to go before the executive board, the superintendent, and the bishop of the diocese at Christ the King. In a letter that my best friend had written to his girlfriend (my previous girlfriend with whom I am still great friends with), there were comments about purchasing a gun off the internet, and implications that he could not wait to use it. I also made a comment about our plans for the weekend.
Making our private letters public turned an innocent eighth grade paintball trip into a threat to the students and members of the community. Being punished even after clearing the matter up, my mind and mouth were shut by unfair infringements upon my privacy. Kundera states that every person withholds information about themselves because "the private and public are two essentially different worlds" and that the private world is not to be tampered with, and within a few years, two prime examples come to mind.
An infringement upon President Bill Clinton's private life actually led to his impeachment. When allegations that he had an affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky, reached the public, he was forced to lie under oath to save his human dignity. It only seems reasonable that a person's sexuality be honored by privacy, and the fact that a person can be reduced to a single action he performs or even the sum of all past actions is an idea discussed in John Sachs' The Gift of Human Freedom.
If indeed people were reduced to past actions, Bill Clinton would have been impeached even earlier for smoking marijuana as a student, and our current President George Bush would be held in dismay for cocaine abuse and driving drunk. The leaders of the greatest nation of all time would be completely obsolete because of simple mistakes in their private past that had been publicized. Thus, it is important to allow privacy on matters that do not directly affect the public.
Kundera is correct to make the distinction that Prochazka's surveillance was unwarranted and unprecedented, because there are certain situations in which it becomes necessary for the private to enter the public, situations in which the public itself is endangered. In the recent case of the FBI Agent Robert Hanson, a twenty-five year FBI veteran with high security clearance, United States spies found documents under Russian control. These documents had been in the hands of Agent Hanson, and a surveillance of his actions was put into effect based on probable cause.
After the United States began to monitor his private actions, the government became aware that he had given up the names of three double agents, two of which were killed upon their return to Russia, and top secret documents that endangered American lives, for over one million dollars in assets. While Agent Hanson put the American Public at risk, simple events in the past such as former President Bill Clinton's marijuana experience or President George Bush's drinking problem from which he has recovered are not necessary for the American public to know about or to use in judging these distinguished men.
Essentially, Kundera's message is that freedom implies privacy, the ability to keep information concealed which could taint one's reputation. This idea of privacy also goes along with the ideas of libel and slander. It is not legal or morally right to publicize a person's mishaps in a way that will decrease his reputation and social standing. When a person puts other people at risk or endangers their freedom however, he forgoes his freedom and loses his right to privacy. It is only then that publication of private matters is fair and necessary.