I often wonder when we are going to decide that an individuals’ right to privacy ends when that person acts or aspires to act in a way that impacts the life and welfare of others.
In Chicago, the mayoral candidates are scrambling to outdo one another’s pledges to remove cameras at intersections, apparently because most Chicago motorists believe their privacy rights extend to being allowed to run red lights, even if doing so is against the law and may kill other people.
We are learning that strict German privacy regulations probably prevented Lufthansa and its subsidiary German Wings from acting as aggressively as they should have to prevent a suicidal co-pilot from slaughtering a plane full of passengers.
Similarly, we can’t know the names of the Secret Service agents involved in any of that agency’s recent failures, whether any of the agents involved in those failures have been or will be dismissed and details of the selection and training processes that made it possible for deficient personalities to play important roles.
The privacy fixation also impacts our lives in day- to- day ways that challenge common sense and shape the social contract. Universities are not allowed to give me the grades of those for whom I pay tuition, doctors won’t talk to me about my wife’s health, banks won’t give me credit card balances on cards issued to others on which I am joint guarantor. While these irritants do not threaten the public welfare, the imposition of legislated standards which supersede pre-existing presumptions of normality erodes the social contract by implying that privacy has a uniquely important value.
We will never be able to identify those most likely to commit horrific acts until we are prepared to acknowledge that an application to undertake public life requires giving up personal privacy. A person who wants to fly or drive a public conveyance, a person who wants a license to practice medicine or dentistry, a person who wants to teach or care for our children, a person who seeks the right to provide legal, brokerage or accounting services, a person who seeks the right to carry a weapon in public places – all these and others who influence the lives of others -- should be prepared for complete disclosure. How else can we judge the character and qualifications of those to whom we trust our lives, our money and our reputations?
I’m tired of it. Are you?