Privacy is a courtesy, not a right. This has been a conviction of mine for quite sometime because there are so many "bad things" that happen to society when privacy is elevated to righthood. This right has been inferred by the courts from various clauses in the Bill of Rights, but I believe that it has been inferred incorrectly. The correct definition for the right inferred is modesty, not privacy. Let's review some of the problems with privacy and then finish by looking at the benefits of modesty.
Privacy diminishes our society's ability to help each other stay true to the rule of law, to our commitments, and to our own convictions. For example, in Puritan society, it was considered reasonable to break into neighbor's house if you heard strange noises and suspected something bad was happening. If you discovered a man beating his wife you were fully in your rights to stop him, arrest him, and testify against him. In today's society, chances are pretty good that such a case would be thrown out because of the right to privacy.
Divorce rates are high and single-parent families are not unusual. Because of privacy it is very difficult for a person's friends to help him stay true to his oath to "have and to hold, for better or worse, until death do you part." This is a shame. Some have said that marriages fall apart more today because we're a more honest society in that we don't hide what's happened. I see it the other way: we're a bunch of liars no longer held in check by our friends and neighbors ernestly looking for our own best interest.
Finally, it's difficult to even hold each other accountable to our convictions. If we can't really help each other in these big ways, the little ways become all the more difficult. Our society has decided that privacy is one of the things required to maintain rugged individualism. This individualism has come at a cost in that more and more people stand alone against their problems and don't have a support group around them to help. Our society looks down on any such support group as a "crutch" rather than seeing it as a vital necessity to maintaining our own well-being.
Privacy diminishes the sovereignty of the United States. The government can no longer enforce all of it's laws in private situations. This implies that a greater amount of anarchy is present where privacy rules. It's not difficult to imagine the ultimate conclusion whereby individuals establish private property and, essentially, operate their own governance of that property independent from the United States. This might sound alright for an individual, but what about corporations? How many people really want a corporation to have the right to establish their own laws on their own land.
The government's laws should be enforced everywhere, regardless of whether it happened in the privacy of one's own home, land, or whatever.
Privacy has been used to legalize sodomy. Formerly, sodomy was considered a crime and is now considered (in some states) a legal practice among consenting adults. I could apply the slippery slope argument here to ask what prevents this from legalizing child pornogrphy, child molestation, rape, or murder.
One might say that the "consenting adults" bit protects these from happening. However, I suggest that these things are already happening in a quasi-legal way because of the diminished sovereignty and reduced accountability. For example, in my own state, Kansas, we recently elected Paul Morrison to Attorney General on the basis of his claim that the previous AG, Phil Kline, wanted access to "private medical records." The reality was that Phil Kline was trying to protect children being molested by their parents. He was trying to get those medical records so that child molesters who forced their children to get abortions to protect themselves from criminal action could be prosecuted. The medical records would show which parents had forced their children to do this.
These are atrocities happening in our own society with impunity because of the elevation of privacy to righthood.
Modesty is a right
On the other hand, limited privacy is of benefit to a free society. I refer to this as modesty. Modesty is that which allows people to mutually respect one another because we gloss over differences that might otherwise elevate us above or below our peers. When we dress modestly, we hide how much better or worse we look than others. When we act modestly in explaining our skills, salary, or talents we keep from mocking others by making them feel less capable or prevent them from denegrating ourselves if they are more capable. Modesty is the buffer we place around ourselves in order to promote mutual respect.
This is something that requires a few legal boundaries to enforce. Modesty is something that can be taken away if your salary is published in the newspaper or if cameras are placed in bathrooms. These things should be protected. But modest stops far short of privacy. Breaking and entering is violating your modesty and is an abuse of your right to own land, not a violation of your privacy.
Basically, privacy takes this too far and has many negative side-effects. I would like to see society back off on the desire for privacy for it's own benefit. Unfortunately, I don't predict this happening any time soon.