What is “Privacy”?

Barbara’s Notes:
As small business owners it is important that we understand and follow the letter of the law with regard to the information we collect about our customers. Darity Wesley is the “privacy guru” for the real estate industry, but her information affects all of us both personally and professionally. Privacy Solutions offers on line privacy statement options for your web site that will keep you within the law, check it out if you don’t already have one, (www.privacygurus.com). The following article is reprinted with permission.

What is “Privacy”?
By Darity Wesley

“I also thought that privacy was something we were granted in the Constitution. I have learned in fact that the word privacy does not appear in the Constitution.”

-Bill Maher

To set the record straight, the U.S. Constitution does not provide any explicit right to privacy. The landmark ChoicePoint incident that compromised consumers’ personally identifiable information and made it available to identity thieves has been a hot topic in the news. Privacy and its role in our daily lives is an important discussion in our personal as well as professional worlds.

Privacy has been an issue over the millennia. In ancient cultures, the ability to run off from the tribe, to hide out in a cave and not participate was considered “privacy”. As we moved into the Industrial Age, a new concept was raised in an 1890 Harvard Law Review article written by Louis D. Brandies, who served on the U. S. Supreme Court from 1916-1939, and his Boston law partner Samuel D. Warren. The article, which was apparently a response to newspaper reports published regarding the behavior of Warren’s wife in social settings, defined privacy as “the right to be left alone”. Now engaged in the 21st century, we find our world evolves into asking what is our “expectation of privacy”? We have, or should have, different expectations depending what we are talking about.

I have found four general areas of privacy: bodily, territorial, communications, and information.

  • Bodily Privacy
    We expect that our bodies are private, unless we as a society have agreed otherwise. For example, if we are in an airport security line and the metal detector beeps as we walk through the scanner. We expect to be searched. Or if we agree to having drug tests as a condition of employment. Or we are renewing our driver’s license and agree as a condition of having that license to submit a thumb print.
  • Territorial Privacy
    We expect that our homes are private. However, when we walk into a convenience store or up to the ATM, we know or should know that we are being video taped. Or we are at an intersection with a red light traffic camera there to record violators of the red light.
  • Communication Privacy
    We expect that our personal conversations are private. But our expectation changes, or should change, if we are on a cell phone versus a land line. We expect that our letters signed, sealed and mailed with the postal service are private but our expectation changes, or should change, when sending email. It is not in any way “private” .
  • Information Privacy
    We expect that our financial information at the bank and the health concerns we discuss with our doctors is confidential. However, anyone can watch what our work-out routines are at the fitness center and we expect that a number of people will know what we buy at the store. The act of purchasing is a public act, for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.

When doing business the information you collect, like an email address or any financial information, is not public record. It is considered “personally identifiable information” under the new laws. What happens to that data after it is disclosed is up to you. And in today’s volatile privacy controversy, being the steward of that information can be a big responsibility. Understanding your clients’ and prospects’ “expectation of privacy” with the regard to the information they provide to you will add to their benefits of using your professional services, and you should tell them so. Additionally, you protecting their information will create an atmosphere of trust and loyalty which will make you stand heads and shoulders above the rest.

Darity Wesley is CEO and Legal Counsel for Privacy Solutions, Inc. a San Diego based consulting firm. Her team of Privacy Gurus® work with you to create policies and procedures to establish the expectation of privacy for your member, clients, customers, prospects, affiliates, associates, employees and vendors. You can reach her at (619)670-9462 or Darity@privacygurus.com, Visit our website at www.privacygurus.com

The Challenge: Review your policy and procedures with regard to how you handle, process, file and dispose of client information. You may be putting yourself and your business in jeopardy. Let us know if you have any concerns.