Is the "right to privacy" even a thing?

This Solove article keeps getting referenced, and i think it will be helpful. It’s called “A Taxonomy of Privacy”

Privacy is complicated:

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I understand. But it really is closely connected. I probably equated them too closely in the article. Still, what we do in the bathroom is properly private. We hide some things because they are sinful and we are rightly ashamed of them. Other things we hide not because they are sinful but because it is shameful for them to be revealed in the wrong context. For example, there is nothing wrong (other than general fallenness) with our bodies. They are fearfully and wonderfully made, just like our souls are. And to become one flesh requires nakedness, and it is not shameful in the proper context. Yet, we read the following and understand it because of the need for clothes so that we won’t suffer shame:

On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,— 1 Corinthians 12:22-24

Or even more explicitly,

(“Behold, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is the one who stays awake and keeps his clothes, so that he will not walk about naked and men will not see his shame.”) — Revelation 16:15

The fact that all our deeds will be revealed is not an argument against privacy. It is an argument against sin. To equate the two is to make the same mistake that so-called Christian nudists make. Just because we have nothing to be ashamed of doesn’t mean that it is for public consumption. By doing away with privacy we sin, because it means we must glory in our shame.

I remember a man in college who I admired because he would confess private sin publicly without letting shame get in his way. I have since come to the conclusion he was unhealthy in this, not to be admired. Discretion means knowing what things are private and what things are public and speaking properly for those present. To confess sin is good. Public sin should be confessed publicly. Private sin should be confessed, but generally not publicly.

Intimacy is also central to the ideas both of privacy and modesty. In the book No Sense of Place, Joshua Meyrowitz makes the point that we need a “backstage” in our lives—a place where we are not concerned for our appearance in the public’s eye. Nobody will (or should) act the same in his living room, alone with his family, as he does out in public. The comedian Jerry Clower points out our understanding of this when he complains that he was going to have to go down to the hotel lounge to watch the football game instead of watching it in his room where he could relax and let the air conditioning blow up one leg of his pajamas and down the other.

Why can’t Clower act that way in the hotel lounge? The problem isn’t that he shouldn’t do that at all. The only reason he can’t is because the lounge is not private. We lose something important when we lose privacy.

In this regard, it is worth noting that encryption is a necessary tool in the digital age, because it is the digital equivalent of putting a ceiling on your living room in a world where 50 people are always peeking over the walls.

To say you have nothing to fear since you aren’t doing anything wrong sounds biblical, but it is a misapplication. The Bible doesn’t say that therefore we don’t need a door on our bathroom. I’m not afraid of loosening my belt and acting like Clower. But like him, I know I shouldn’t do it in public. What I’m afraid of is having no place I can do that.


There are rights outlined in Scripture, as has been helpfully explicated in this thread. But the Enlightenment frame of “rights” is pretty unhelpful in a Biblical frame, and I think our pre-modern fathers would have been rightly puzzled by it.

We are all born into a complex web of duties owed to us and duties we owe to others. None of us were asked to consent to those duties and many of the duties owed to us were not consented to by those who owe duties to us.

To the extent that the Enlightenment proposed duties to correspond to rights, that is now gone in 2020, and among the consequences are that sodomites have the “right” to get married and women have the “right” to dismember their children. The corresponding duties are, respectively, splitting the rent 50/50 and making sure the check to the abortionist clears the bank. Or so I surmise: Nobody ever bothers to say what duties correspond to these rights.

In the meantime, Christians are lost in arguments about whether or not women who have sex consent to pregnancies, which is simply a dead end. Women owe a duty to their unborn children. In ancient Israel, living brothers owed their dead brother and his widow a son. These are duties.


Excellent, Joseph. Thomas Howard in his book, “Splendor in the Ordinary,” made the case that the bathroom door ought to be closed. I agreed, and still do.

I came at this discussion of privacy from the consideration of technology. But our technology has really only brought the topic to the fore. We need to understand what privacy is and why it is important from the Biblical perspective.

Which has led me to another observation: I don’t know of any book on the topic of privacy from a Biblical perspective. If any of you know of something, please post it.

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Have you seen RSC’s unnamed attack on Jeff Durbin for having recorded the BTWN guy admitting to having slandered him. Who apparently went on to do so after the fact.

I’m wondering how this conversation bears on this account. Seems like RSC is slandering Durbin. I’m a little familiar with the situation, but not intimately.

Was Durbin wrong to record a conversation with a man he believed to be a liar?

First, I’d like to steer the conversation away from Jeff Durbin and R Scott Clark. I’m only learning of that situation now, so I really can’t comment on it. Plus, I’d really prefer that we avoid talking about those kinds of internet kerfuffles in this space.

All that said, recorded conversations do have huge privacy implications. In some states, for instance, it is illegal to record a conversation without the other party’s consent.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • In general, yes, I think it’s wrong to secretly record a conversation. It’s generally a breach of trust.
  • If you think someone is a liar, and you don’t trust talking with him… don’t talk to him. Maybe easier said than done, but, if so, take someone else with you so that there are multiple witnesses.
  • Pastors in counseling sessions should probably make a habit of asking whether the conversation is being recorded. It has certainly happened more than once here in Bloomington that a counseling session was recorded without the pastors knowledge. As I said, it is a serious breach of trust for one party to record what is assumed to be private conversation without the knowledge of the other party.
  • It’s possible that both parties are willing to have the conversation recorded. That will change the conversation drastically, of course, because we all know that a recorded conversation can easily get out into the open, even if neither party intends for that to happen.
  • In No Sense of Place, Meyrowitz points out that context matters immensely - but context is precisely what was flattened by the television, and now, the internet. Adults don’t talk with children the way that they talk with other adults; a husband doesn’t talk with other women the way he talks with his wife; a young boy doesn’t talk to older women the way he talks to his friends; you don’t talk in church the way you would on a soccer field, etc. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.
  • The fact that all these conversations can be recorded means that they can be taken from one context and plopped into another context willy-nilly. This is causing great confusion and consternation.
  • The general principle that we should all follow is this: God’s Word, our cultural heritage, our mothers, and we determine what is acceptable and proper, and not our tech. The internet didn’t actually flatten our world - it just makes it seem like our world has been flattened. And so, in general, we should apply the same offline rules of social decorum when we are online.
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I appreciate you desire to stay on point. Simply looking to apply your discussion to something currently erupting. So I’ll avoid going into those details any further.

As you point out, in some states it’s illegal to record a third party without their consent. In some states it’s not. I’m curious as to the reasoning between the two positions. I wonder if there is consideration given as to the greater evil. On one hand recording a conversation in one context and brought to light in another versus the evil of bearing false witness, which seems to be greater given its place in the Decalogue. I imagine that the concern over context ultimately comes down to bearing a false witness as well.

It is interesting though that I seem to recall an article or maybe thread reply that addressed if only in passing the importance of during a session meeting or trial I imagine they would be tried in absentia.

In those states that do allow recording without the consent of the other party, most if not all require that the recording be made by someone party to the conversation recorded. In other words, it does not permit eavesdropping surveillance by third party individuals.


Except of course when the government wants to snoop on everyone. We’re supposed to ignore what the NSA does every day.


And that sir is the power of the sword. Which I think speaks to the severity of what slander can do. Unfortunately, many in our government are bearing the sword in vain for personal benefit and public slander.

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I had an occasion for this when my kids were in grade school. A fifth grade teacher showed an R rated film to the kids (one of them mine), and I undertook to discover if there were any policies in place to govern such occurrences. The school administration seemed to reflexively go into defensive mode, and at one stage I requested and got a meeting with the teacher, the school principal, and a school district administrator.

I showed up with two portable tape recorders. I explained that because the policy matters were controversial, it contributed to everyone’s safety to have a recording of all that was said in this meeting. I also explained that if they were unwilling for the conversation to be recorded, I would depart and the next meeting would be between my attorney and the attorney for the school district. The administrator immediately ruled that he, the principal, and the teacher would proceed. He would retain one of the audio-cassette tapes, I the other.

Oh boy, was that ever true! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

The meeting proceeded for about 30 minutes, and it was mostly a matter of relating the creation, sending, and receipt of previous written communications. It could easily have taken ten minutes. But, everyone spoke with such care that it slowed things down hugely.

Texas (where I live) is one of those one-party permission states.

Have you noticed the frequency of businesses who answer your calls to them with a recorded notice that “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes”? Obviously, it will serve other purposes as well. I’ve often wanted (not tried it yet) to announce to the live person that I, too, am recording the conversation. :eyes::eyes::eyes:


I do believe that there are often exceptions for whistleblowers and journalists doing the same type of thing, making them exempt from prosecution in states where secret recordings are prohibited. So, yes, the lawmakers have tried to balance the dangers, I’d say. On the other hand, I think the current technological environment is far beyond the laws. I’d say the laws are largely toothless at this point, because social practice has moved so rapidly as to make the laws obsolete. They were written for another era.

Amazon Alexa could make a recording of all parties in a room without anybody’s knowledge, at any time, from inside a lamp that only the owner knows contains Alexa. Is that legal in these states? Does everybody with an Alexa need to declare that fact to their guests upon entry?

Until recently I didn’t realize the purpose of such laws prohibiting recordings without both parties’ consent. The danger being guarded against by prohibiting secret recordings really is the invasion of privacy.


I would think the owner would only be violating the law if they intentionally made the recording. “Alexa, start recording” 30 seconds before the guests arrived. But if the lamp is doing so “on it’s own,” without the owner’s knowledge, then I would think that Amazon could be in deep legal trouble–if caught. Of course, if Alexa really is recording everything all the time, then it probably won’t come to light in any sort of conclusive way until all those conversations are dumped on WikiLeaks. And at this point, that last part sounds inevitable.

Anyone ever waded through that mile-deep EULA that comes with Alexa (or any similar device/technology) to see if the end-user has either waived any rights against unknown recording, or perhaps granted a comprehensive permission for the device to record any ol’ thang it pleases whenever it pleases? :nerd_face:


This is how these devices work, including iPhones:

  • the device is not recording at all times
  • the device is listening for a wake word or phrase at all times
  • when woken (even accidentally) it then begins recording temporarily all audio that its microphones can pick up
  • recordings are sent over the internet for voice-to-text interpretation (ie voice recognition) and potential additional action
  • a small subset of recordings are sent to the company for subcontractors to listen to and evaluate the quality of the speech to text interpretation. (This sort of evaluation is necessary to continue improving the quality of voice recognition. Also, there may or may not be a way to either opt in or opt out, depending on the company. The contractors are under strict non-disclosure agreements, but… they have heard recordings of crimes.)
  • Because there are false positives for the wake word (or phrase), the device may start recording at any moment, without warning, and that recording may be randomly selected for a contractor to listen to. Thus it is impossible with such a device in your pocket or on your shelf to know whether some third party will hear what is going on. (Unless you’ve opted out. Also, this assumes you believe their claims of what they do or don’t do with the recordings.)

Amazon did not get in any deep legal trouble over this when it came out, though there was a bit of a kerfuffle over it, even Bezos getting asked some questions by Congress, if I recall correctly.


How would you know if they did? What if bad stuff just started happening to you?

Our XBox informs us at random times in a little pop up box in the top corner that “Cortana is not supported.” I don’t think anyone in my house has ever voiced the word “Cortana” except when that box has appeared.

You wouldn’t. Of course, you wouldn’t ever be able to truly know that an encrypted message application was actually encrypting your messages, either. At some point, trust has to enter the equation. I trust Apple more than Amazon or Google, because their incentives align more with privacy, and their track record is better. Not nearly perfect, mind you. Just better.

Alan Westin, perhaps the most influential privacy scholar of the twentieth century, once argued that “if the [constitutional] convention’s work had been made public contemporaneously, it is unlikely that the compromises forged in private sessions could have been achieved, or even that their state governments would have allowed the delegates to write a new constitution.”

Excerpt from: “None of Your Damn Business: Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age” by Lawrence Cappello. Scribd.
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The notes of those private meetings were sealed for 50 years.