The Unicorn: An Argument for the Non-Existence of Privacy

The right to be left alone and the right to control information are the two key definitions of a freedom upheld by common law, constitutional law, and statue; privacy. As individuals, we feel an entitlement to our privacy which includes the expression and regulation of both the latter definitions. Thus, once infringed upon many questions arise in the outcome; especially within a court of law. In terms of legal proceedings, privacy is usually seen as a moral debate about its priority over the reasons for infringement or vice versa. Yet, in such an age of technological advancement, privacy no longer seems to be a freedom but rather free to be infringed upon by anybody or body resourced to do so. Thus, this paper will argue privacy is vulnerable to the reaching hands of resourced bodies whose infringement, if and only when realized, make this freedom exist but only as a mere product of knowledgable outcomes. Furthermore, if the issue of privacy is brought into existence, it is dealt with in a consequentialist manner solely concerned about the who, what, and why of those infringing and being infringed upon to determine justice.

You go on Facebook and post a location, Instagram and post a photo, or even gardening behind the high walls in your backyard, people can see almost everything you do if you allow them or not. We see things like “privacy settings” on our social media pages and feel a false sense of safety and comfort when in reality your information could be passing to others online or even through word of mouth. Until then, with all the personal information one was so freely willing to provide, privacy was not even a thought. The previous is true until someone you did not know comments on your location on Facebook, steals that picture you posted on Instagram, or you catch the neighbor peeking over those high walls while you garden. It is only once such infringements become knowledgable does privacy come into existence.


These online entities or even the nosy neighbor were all resourced to observe you as they did. Yet, one may argue that the provided examples are too transparent to prove the first claim of my thesis. Therefore, allow me to provide an example relevant to a world many of us have encountered in our lives; the workplace. Think of the time you had to apply for a job and looked down at the application form to see the list of necessary information required. Social insurance number, date of birth, citizenship, and address are some of the common requirements for most jobs.

Let us then fast forward to the day of that nerve-wracking interview where you are asked not only workplace specific questions but also personal information such as your religion, ideologies, or health status. It has been noted as a population, we rarely reconsider or question what is being asked of us while applying for a job (DesJardins, Hartman, MacDonald, 335-399). The latter also applies to when an individual is active in the workplace as it is common to be monitored by their employer, whether it be through the observation of emails or screening of phone calls (335-399). It is only when a lapse in employer observation or realization of infringement by the employee does privacy come into existence in the workplace. This is because up until that point any notion of privacy was overlooked in the hopes of social or personal gain. Why is this example less transparent? Simply because such entities as the workplace are powerfully resourced bodies- either in general or compared to the employee- as well as apart of the personal supply and demand system; I work for you and you provide for me. Thus, privacy is rendered irrelevant and even when it does become a question many cases are split between the employer and employee based on a consequentialist approach(335-399).


To elaborate on the latter and further solidify my thesis consider possibly one of the biggest privacy debates of all time; Edward Snowden versus the National Security Agency. In 2013, Snowden would leave his job at Booz Allen Hamilton and fly to an undisclosed hotel in Hong Kong (Citizenfour). It was here he would allow himself to be filmed and provide information to journalists Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, and Ewen MacAskill about the NSA’s unauthorized surveillance of the American population through various wiretapping means (Citizenfour). Snowden provided information of surveillance that could have been ongoing for years which proves that privacy is vulnerable to the reaching hands of resourced bodies. Furthermore, the latter shows that such infringements, if and only when realized, bring privacy into existence but only as a mere product of knowledgable outcomes. In other words, if Snowden had not provided this information, especially with the knowledge that hundreds of others just like him knew of the NSA’s surveillance, who is to say how long this could have lasted without the American population’s knowledge.

It would be information that would prove long standing theories of secret government surveillance, yet in essence would change nothing. Snowden would be labelled, socially and legally, as a traitor and flee to Russia for asylum where he is believed to still be while the NSA would receive nothing more than the equivalent to a slight look of discomfort whenever they entered a working class bar (Citizenfour). This is because, as the thesis states, the issue of privacy was dealt with in a consequentialist way asking the who, why, and what of those infringing and being infringed upon. The infringing NSA claimed and upholds that the surveillance was used to combat a post 9/11world, stopping terrorism from happening (Citizenfour). A person, especially one under the employment of the United States government, who discloses this information of national security to the public is a traitor that should be arrested for high treason. One would assume that Snowden’s information would clearly appeal to the rights and freedoms of all people over those in positions of power. Yet, publically, this debate is not so clearly understood as many are divided over Edward Snowden the hero or traitor. This is because justice is being determined by the who, why, and what of the situation rather than determined by the intrinsic value of privacy as a right, thus reinforcing the first part of this thesis.

"Man Whispering to Woman"
“Man Whispering to Woman”

In essence, the Snowden case perfectly embodies the argument of this article but may still not be adequate enough to defend it. For example, one must consider a rebuttal on the grounds that this case, as well as the examples of privacy in the workplace I provided earlier, are representations of the individual versus the resourced body. When one makes this claim, it is to say that the individual alone is almost always less resourced than a body such as a corporation or government entity. Thus, this argument would only apply to obvious cases of unequally resourced parties and for that reason does not prove the non-existence of privacy or the consequentialist manner in which it is dealt with; it simply proves David and Goliath is a hopeful story. Therefore, allow me to address this objection by referring to a present day case of privacy involving two equal opponents; Apple and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on December 2nd killing fourteen people and injuring twenty-two (“San Bernardino Shooting Updates”). Police would later kill the two assailants and as the crime scene was swept for evidence Farook’s locked IPhone was found outside their Redlands home (“San Bernardino Shooting Updates”). The FBI believed the phone could contain the couples whereabouts before and after the shooting which might result in the apprehension of any unknown co conspirators (“San Bernardino Shooting Updates”). Thus, they asked Apple to allow them access to their IPhone products, but such access would make all Apple IPhone users vulnerable to data infringement or surveillance (Digital Trends Staff). Therefore, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated to the public that,

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.(Cook)

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With equal opponents now in play, allow me to combat the latter objections to my thesis. Cook has now sparked the consequentialist debate for the public to ask the who, what and why of this matter before any privacies could be infringed. Once again, privacy as an intrinsic right, which Cook is appealing to in his address, is not uniform in this debate because of the consequentialist manner in which it is approached and viewed; many believe the FBI is right in their demands and many believe Cook is.By appealing to the public first, the Apple CEO reverses the order in which the argument has been presented through his publicizing of the FBI’s request. Yet, such an action does not disprove my thesis but further solidifies it. By doing so, Cook has proven that privacy is a product of knowledgable outcomes; if he had not informed the public of the FBI’s request then when or how would we know if this debate was taking place or furthermore if the request had been accepted.

Also, the fact that the FBI requested access to the products does not coincide with the definition of infringement which is to break or violate the law. For example, consider how the FBI dropped the case because they were approached by an outside source who helped them gain access into the IPhone (Digital Trends Staff). If the FBI had never asked Apple for permission and this source had been available to them sooner then infringement would have been fulfilled. With that in mind, if the FBI would have done the latter -which there is a strong reason to believe they could have as Edward Snowden stated at the Common Cause’s third annual Blueprint for a Great Democracy conference-this proves privacy is vulnerable to the reaching hands of resourced bodies whose infringement, if and only when realized, make this freedom exist but only as a mere product of knowledgable outcomes (Common Cause`). This conclusion also rebuttals the claim that this thesis only applies to a vastly unbalanced dynamic in resourced entities; the corporation versus the individual. Yet, Apple being a billion dollar industry and the FBI being a powerful government agency shows that such infringement is possible between any resourced parties.

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Whether it be the individual versus the corporation or the corporation versus the corporation, the idea of privacy is vulnerable to infringement by those resourced to do so. The key word to consider here is privacy is an idea constantly disregarded by the individual or powerfully resourced body in our present technological society for further benefit. Only when an infringement to privacy is realized does it shift from the realm of thought into existence making it a product of knowledgable outcomes rather than a freedom to be upheld and enforced. The latter is evident through the consequentialist manner privacy is litigated and viewed with; it is not what is intrinsically just but the who, why, and what of those involved that determines the justice. Therefore, think of privacy as a unicorn, it is not real but you can always put a horn on a horse and parade it around; as long as you can pay for the horn.

Work Cited

Citizenfour. Dir. Laura Poitras. HBO Documentary Films, 2014. Film.

Common Cause. “A Conversation on Surveillance, Democracy, and Civil Society.” Online Video Clip. YouTube. YouTube, 8 Mar. 2016. Web. 4 Apr 2016.

Cook, Tim. “A Message to Our Customers.” Apple. Apple Inc., 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 4 Apr 2016.

Digital Trends Staff. “Apple Vs. The FBI: A complete Timeline of the War over Tech Encryption.” DigitalTrends. Digital Trends, 3 Apr. 2016. Web. 4 Apr 2016.

DesJardins, Joe, Hartman, Laura, and MacDonald, Chris. Business Ethics: Decision Making for Personal Integrity and Social Responsibility. 3rd Ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2014. Print.

“San Bernardino Shooting Updates.” LosAngelesTimes. Los Angeles Times, 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 4 Apr 2016.

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  1. danielle577

    A wonderfully smart, thought-provoking article. You did a wonderful job interweaving between different articles, and even at times, playing devil’s advocate to you own proposed thesis, to only further support your original stance. You take on a highly controversial yet extremely important and relevant topic. Your writing is accessibly and the dissemination of information provided does not feel forced, nor argumentative. You have found the perfect balance of stating a point without making a reader feel as if they are being preached to, unlike the sensationalism tactics taken on by today’s news media. Well done!

  2. Edelmira

    Fantastic, thank you very much!

  3. Loss of freedom due to threats from any concept of a governing body is ongoing, as soon as one reliquishes control of their life to it.

  4. Edward Snowden is the text book example of righteous whistle blower and should be pardoned.

  5. Munjeera

    Freedom, like truth, has become more and more elusive in the 21st century. Ironic, since there is more opportunity for both in digital spaces.

  6. It seems to me not many people understand this persistent, systematic, leakage of information, not even some hardened pros, unless they’ve worked in online analytics where that information is used en masse every day, albeit generally the thicker end of the long-tail.

  7. Jestine

    Solid information.

  8. Philosophy triumphs over intelligence and realism.

  9. While I don’t have a great concern about surveillance on my communications, this is a very valuable and practical article. Great job!

  10. Yes, it’s all about hegemony really. Privacy is relevant, but more so in a totalitarian society. Why can’t we protest? I propose a one day strike to not use the Internet at all. That means everyone on the planet not going online all day for one whole day to protest about privacy and surveillance and government tyranny.

  11. Barrera

    That was terrifying and inspiring in so many ways.

  12. How to truly secure all your online and electronic tech’s devices data?

  13. Desire Ladner

    If you’re remotely interested in security, privacy and even the root causes of the terrorism we’re seeing, do yourself a favor, think critically.

  14. TallSan

    As you live your life, there are moments that stay with you forever. For example, people say they always remember where they were when Kennedy was shot. Such a moment for me was the razing of the Berlin wall. I knew it would happen, although I did not know if it would be in my lifetime. Freedom for a whole group of people!

    Now, I wait for the freedom of a single person, Edward Snowden. When you come home, I expect a ticker parade. I’ll be the gray haired woman in the front with tears in her eyes. Thank you for your service to all of us and for demonstrating how important it is to do the right thing. I am sorry the price was so high.

  15. tellkik

    Privacy= at the core it is belonging/pertaining to oneself/personal(not the state not open to the public).

  16. This was superb.

  17. Corbitt

    Very informative and intellectual. Every person should read this, as it’s an immediate education tool. Well done.

  18. oldLeftie

    An updated meme:
    A Conservative is a Liberal who just got hacked.
    Our legal system, and our evolved sensitivities, arose over millennia; virtual reality is not our home. We evolved search warrants and court orders which allow agencies to legally break and enter for specific justifications, and literally no edifice is impenetrable. Claiming the right to absolute privacy is specious, and Apple’s stance is self-serving and self-important. The ironic counterpoint, that millions compromise their own secrets willingly, via social sites and unread Rights agreements, does not offset or directly alter the legitimate concerns for Legal search and seizure. It boils down to who ‘owns’ personal information, and who does and does not have the right to access it, and under exactly what limiting conditions.

  19. Very well said, and a very interesting read. My friends and I say “Privacy is an illusion” to one another all the time – I think your article puts substance to that notion effectively.

  20. Well said! Privacy is a right that should not be infringed upon when a government body sees fit

  21. Tigey

    With the internet there’s unlimited space to store info: we’re all on a list somewhere.

  22. JoshuaStrydom

    Incredibly interesting, and though provoking. I wonder though, if privacy really is even a right. I am of the mindset that the only rights, the only entitlements we have, are inalienable ones, the rest are privileges. For example, I have a right to my opinions. No one can take my opinions, beliefs or convictions away from me- they can disagree with me, or even convince me of something contrary; but ultimately, my opinions are my own, and no one can take that away. My expressing my opinions to others, that is a privilege, as I can be silenced. The same works for privacy. If it can be taken away from me (government spying on me through my webcam, listening to phone conversations, social media tracking, cookies etc) then it cannot be a right, it is a privilege afforded to me at varying levels by the country I live in. I am not entitled to privacy, I am privileged to enjoy it because of where I live. If it is a right, then why does everyone not enjoy it equally? In prisons for example, privacy is not a right- cells with no doors, open showers, body checks etc. And it never was a right- because if it were, it could not have been taken away.

  23. Passerby

    Definitely well thought out ideas and it analyzes the question of what is more important: privacy or security. I think we could all agree that we as citizens still need our human right to privacy.

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