AskDefine | Define privacy

Dictionary Definition



1 the quality of being secluded from the presence or view of others [syn: privateness, seclusion]
2 the condition of being concealed or hidden [syn: privateness, secrecy, concealment]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /ˈprɪvəsiː/,
  • SAMPA: /"prIv@si:/, /"praIv@si:/


  1. The state of being private; the state of not being seen by others.


state of being private

Related terms



  1. privacy

Extensive Definition

Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves or information about themselves and thereby reveal themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differs between cultures and individuals, but share basic common themes. Privacy is sometimes related to anonymity, the wish to remain unnoticed or unidentified in the public realm. When something is private to a person, it usually means there is something within them that is considered inherently special or personally sensitive. The degree to which private information is exposed therefore depends on how the public will receive this information, which differs between places and over time. Privacy can be seen as an aspect of security — one in which trade-offs between the interests of one group and another can become particularly clear.
The right against unsanctioned invasion of privacy by the government, corporations or individuals is part of many countries' privacy laws, and in some cases, constitutions. Almost all countries have laws which in some way limit privacy; an example of this would be law concerning taxation, which normally require the sharing of information about personal income or earnings. In some countries individual privacy may conflict with freedom of speech laws and some laws may require public disclosure of information which would be considered private in other countries and cultures.
Privacy may be voluntarily sacrificed, normally in exchange for perceived benefits and very often with specific dangers and losses, although this is a very strategic view of human relationships. Academics who are economists, evolutionary theorists, and research psychologists describe revealing privacy as a 'voluntary sacrifice', where sweepstakes or competitions are involved. In the business world, a person may give personal details (often for advertising purposes) in order to enter a gamble of winning a prize. Information which is voluntarily shared and is later stolen or misused can lead to identity theft.

Types of privacy

The term "privacy" means many things in different contexts. Different people, cultures, and nations have a wide variety of expectations about how much privacy a person is entitled to or what constitutes an invasion of privacy.


Physical privacy could be defined as preventing "intrusions into one's physical space or solitude" This would include such concerns as:
  • preventing intimate acts or one's body from being seen by others
  • preventing unwelcome searching of one's personal possessions
  • preventing unauthorized access to one's home or vehicle
An example of the legal basis for the right to physical privacy would be the US 4th amendment, which guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures",. Most countries have laws regarding trespassing and property rights also determine the right of physical privacy.
Physical privacy may be a matter of cultural sensitivity, personal dignity, or shyness. There may also be concerns about safety, if for example one has concerns about being the victim of crime or stalking.


main article Information privacy Data privacy refers to the evolving relationship between technology and the legal right to, or public expectation of privacy in the collection and sharing of data about ones self. Privacy concerns exist wherever uniquely identifiable data relating to a person or persons are collected and stored, in digital form or otherwise. In some cases these concerns refer to how data is collected, stored, and associated. In other cases the issue is who is given access to information. Other issues includes whether an individual has any ownership rights to data about them, and/or the right to view, verify, and challenge that information.
Various types of personal information often come under privacy concerns. For various reasons, individuals may not wish for personal information such as their religion, sexual orientation, political affiliations, or personal activities to be revealed. This may be to avoid discrimination, personal embarrassment, or damage to one's professional reputation.
Financial privacy, in which information about a person's financial transactions is guarded, is important for the avoidance of fraud or identity theft. Information about a person's purchases can also reveal a great deal about that person's history, such as places they have visited, whom they have had contact with, products they use, their activities and habits, or medications they have used.
Internet privacy is the ability to control what information one reveals about oneself over the Internet, and to control who can access that information. These concerns include whether email can be stored or read by third parties without consent, or whether third parties can track the web sites someone has visited. Another concern is whether web sites which are visited collect, store, and possibly share personally identifiable information about users.
Medical privacy allows a person to keep their medical records from being revealed to others. This may be because they have concern that it might affect their insurance coverage or employment. Or it may be because they would not wish for others to know about medical or psychological conditions or treatment which would be embarrassing. Revealing medical data could also reveal other details about one's personal life (such as about one's sexual activity for example).
Political privacy has been a concern since voting systems emerged in ancient times. The secret ballot is the simplest and most widespread measure to ensure that political views are not known to anyone other than the voter themself--it is nearly universal in modern democracy, and considered a basic right of citizenship. In fact even where other rights of privacy do not exist, this type of privacy very often does.


Governments agencies, corporations, and other organizations may desire to keep their activities or secrets from being revealed to other organizations or individuals. Such organizations may implement various security practices in order to prevent this. Organizations may seek legal protection for their secrets. For example, a government administration may be able to invoke executive privilege or declares certain information to be classified, or a corporation might attempt to protect trade secrets.

History of privacy

Privacy and technology

Philosophy of privacy

Privacy law

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in article 12, states:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Privacy International, a British human rights group, prepares yearly rankings of privacy protection by country.
Privacy is not guaranteed per se by the Constitution of the United States. The Supreme Court of the United States has found that other guarantees have "penumbras" that implicitly grant a right to privacy against government intrusion, for example in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). Privacy is regulated in the U.S. by the Privacy Act of 1974, and various state laws.
The European Union requires all member states to legislate to ensure that citizens have a right to privacy, through directives such as the 1995 Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of personal data. It is regulated in the United Kingdom by the Data Protection Act 1998 and in France data protection is also monitored by the CNIL, a governmental body which must authorize legislation concerning privacy before them being enacted. In Australia there is the Privacy Act 1988.
If the privacy of an individual is breached, the individual may bring a lawsuit asking for monetary damages. However, in the United Kingdom, some recent cases involving celebrities such as David Beckham, have resulted in defeat as the information has been determined in the courts to be in the public interest. In the United States, the right of freedom of speech granted in the First Amendment have limited the effects of lawsuits for breach of privacy.
In the United States, Federal law regulating communications carriers prohibits the disclosure of customer phone records. Breaches of this law in the private sector were found to be common, with sales of call detail information becoming the subject of Congressional inquiry. More recently, it has been revealed that the United States National Security Agency has been warehousing the call detail information of billions of individual phone calls for pattern analysis. Whether this was done in violation of law or through powers granted by Congress as part of the broader "War on Terrorism" is the subject of debate.


Further reading

  • Judith Wagner DeCew, 1997, In Pursuit of Privacy: Law, Ethics, and the Rise of Technology, Ithaca: Cornell University Press
  • Ruth Gavison, "Privacy and the Limits of the Law," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1996), paperback, 552 pages, pp. 46-68.
  • Raymond Geuss, 2003, "Public Goods, Private Goods," Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Judith Jarvis Thomson, "The Right to Privacy," in Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood, eds., Crime and Punishment: Philosophic Explorations (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 2000, formerly Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1995), 552 pages, pp. 34-46.
  • A. Westin, 1967, Privacy and Freedom, New York: Atheneum
privacy in Czech: Soukromí
privacy in German: Privatsphäre
privacy in Spanish: Privacidad
privacy in French: Vie privée
privacy in Indonesian: Privasi
privacy in Italian: Privacy
privacy in Hebrew: הזכות לפרטיות
privacy in Dutch: Privacy
privacy in Japanese: プライバシー
privacy in Norwegian: Personvern
privacy in Polish: Prywatność
privacy in Portuguese: Privacidade
privacy in Russian: Неприкосновенность частной жизни
privacy in Slovenian: Zasebnost
privacy in Ukrainian: Захист інформації
privacy in Yiddish: פריוואטקייט
privacy in Chinese: 隐私权

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1