The definition of privacy

There is no globally acknowledged definition of privacy because the term can have different meanings depending on culture, history, or personal experience. During this course, we will use a definition that should sufficiently apply to most Western democracies:

Privacy is someone’s ability to be in a state of no company and no observation, or in short: it is the right to be let alone. Being in privacy means keeping personal information and matters secret and only sharing personal information and matters at one’s own will. The protection of privacy, therefore, means the freedom from unauthorized intrusion into one’s personal space, information, and matters.

Confusion often stems from the issue that the terms “privacy” and “data protection” are used as synonyms. They are both connected to each other, but while privacy refers directly to the personal space or sphere of an individual, data protection specifically refers to the protection of “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural (living) person”.1 Privacy covers all aspects of the personal sphere, like the physical protection of your home. For example, if you fall victim to unwanted physical contact, your right to privacy was harmed, but not your right to data protection.

The right to privacy is a human right as stated in Article 12 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”1

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights