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For anything to qualify to be private, it has to be legally entitled to just one person, a distinct group of people, or an organization. Privacy can take different perspectives depending on the context within which it is used. Clerk (2006) defines privacy as the interest that different people have in preserving a ‘personal space’ safe from disruption by other persons and organizations. In this context, the concept of privacy can be applied in different perspectives including individual, individual behavior, personal communications, and personal data.
The concept of privacy is not clearly understood by many. Majority of people believe privacy to be some right to own or outright access to something over other people. Because of the mixed perceptions people hold about privacy, this paper seeks to examine the concept of information privacy to help the reader understand what privacy really means.
Information privacy popularly known as data privacy, gives an individual the right to data about themselves; that the data should not be readily accessible to other people and organization, and in conditions where another party holds the data, the individual must exercise a considerable degree of control over it, including its application (Clarke, 2006).
It is important to employ the term ‘information’ to cover both data privacy and communication privacy. Information privacy can be approached from two different perspectives viz. utilitarian and deontological perspectives..
A utilitarian holds that something is moral so long as it benefits all people. How does information privacy benefit an individual? Legislatures in Europe and North American countries initially enacted laws on information privacy focused largely on safeguarding data about individual, rather than the individual themselves (Clarke, 2006). Although data security is more practical concept relative to the abstract view of privacy, it is not what people want.
Information technology forms a stronghold for communication change in the modern world. This communication changes are accompanied by adverse effects arising from increased cases of hacking and trespassing into zones of private information. According to Mill’s theory (1993), an act can only pass as ethical based on the measurements of its consequences. The act will pass as ethical if the consequences are positively oriented, and if they are negatively oriented, they pass as unethical.
A utilitarian analysis of intrusion of privacy by other people involves judgment of conflicting claims. In the case of intrusion to deceased email account, the factors are specially identified as outcomes of the privacy intrusion.
The utilitarian resolution regards the benefits and adverse effects that are anticipated to arise from a specific incident of privacy intrusion (Gauthier, 2002, p.29) in access of the e-mail account in question. Mill (1979), supposed that, “the consequences for every concerned person must be regarded and the people concerned must be ‘strictly impartial’ in relating the consequences of their actions for their selves as well as for other” (p. 16).
Based on the utilitarian model, the prospective benefits and harms of an action for every person concerned must be determined and compared impartially, to establish if the action is morally appropriate or inappropriate. In cases where the potential harm overwhelms the anticipated benefits, the act passes for morally improper act.
On the other hand, if the estimated benefits outweigh the prospective harms, the act passes as morally proper. However, there is risk that those concerned may incline to concentrate on the number of benefits or harms. None of these suppositions is a proper application of the utilitarian model. On the contrary, the significance of the benefits and the adverse effects involved that should be compared before taking a firm stand concerning the matter in question.
The issue of who has the right to access the e-mail account of the deceased can also be addressed from a legal perspective. According to Schoeman (1992), “courts can broadly choose one of the two options available to resolve the anxiety developed by the right to privacy against the right to free sharing of information” (p.65). Such approach underscores the deontological perspective also known as the consequential perspective.
The deontological approach, generally weighs the right to privacy options against issues of confidentiality. Confidentiality refers to the legal positions of individuals or organization that possess the information about other individuals following a certain form of relationship with them (Clarke, 2006).
Alternatively, the law can choose the consequential perspective where confidentiality is weighed against public concern. The law is generally unwilling to compromise autonomy on information if sustaining the right to information privacy translates to infringement upon the benefits, endorsed by the basic flow “from information sharing” (Schoeman, 1992, p.69).
The utilitarian and the deontological perspectives are relevant in adopting the protection of the civic interest based on the Article 10 weighed against the protection of the individual’s right to privacy based on Article 8. Therefore, court ruling will depend on how the jury will treat the balance between the protection of public interest against the protection of the deceased right to privacy.
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Clarke, R. (2006). Introduction to Dataveillance and Information Privacy, and Definitions Of Terms. Web.
Gauthier, C. (2002). Privacy Invasion by the News Media: Three Ethical Models. Journal Of Mass Media, 17(1), 20-34.
Mill, J. S. (1979). Utilitarianism. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Mill, J. S. (1993). On liberty and utilitarianism. New York: Bantam Dell.
Schoeman, F. (1992). Privacy and social freedom. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.