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Privacy refers to the non-public area in which a person exercises his right to free development of his personality, unaffected by external influences . The right to privacy is considered a human right and is anchored in all modern democracies. This right can be restricted due to the public interest in a person or for criminal prosecution purposes.

History of privacy


The idea of ​​a private sphere of the individual can already be found in Greek and Roman philosophy ( antiquity ), the relationship between individual well-being and common good was discussed, but in practice only an elite could claim this right.

For slaves such freedoms did not apply. They were neither entitled to individuality nor to their own room.

middle Ages

In the Middle Ages , only a few aristocrats and rich citizens could allow themselves a private life into which no one had any insight (see also Kemenate ). Most of them had to share a bedroom , a kitchen and a living room ( there were hardly any bathrooms yet). Sometimes several people even slept together in one bed . The servants slept on benches, stoves or on a straw chute , without any privacy. In the farms , people sometimes lived and slept with the cattle under one roof; it happened that the male and female servants slept in the stable .

The monks had a little bit of privacy in their monastery cells when they could withdraw a little in their sparse free time . Novices had little privacy because they were still in the " probationary period ". Cultural historians see the development of the chimney as a technical catalyst, which made it possible to heat several rooms at the same time and to create retreats for family members.

Modern times

Today's notion of privacy emerged with the emergence of the bourgeoisie in modern times . The bourgeoisie, who had achieved material prosperity, wanted to separate themselves spatially from the workers in the cities. The humanism , liberalism , anarchism and the idea of individual human rights are contrary to feudalism , and later collectivism , fascism and communism , often Reset on behalf of the common good individual liberties, and secret police especially differing opinions explore in the population and track.

Cold War

In the course of the East-West conflict ( Cold War ), secret services , wiretapping and surveillance technologies played a major role in the background, which the public often only became aware of afterwards or not at all. Secret surveillance took the place of open, visible conflict (hot war ) .

The 1987 census in Germany met with great resistance from part of the population, and boycotts and protests were initiated.

Since 2001

Comparison of several countries in the "privacy ranking 2007" of the organization Privacy International .
A year earlier, Germany was still at the top.
  • Consistent upholding of human rights
  • Significant protection and security measures
  • Adequate safeguards against abuse
  • Some security measures, but weakened protection
  • Systematic failure to maintain security measures
  • Widespread surveillance societies
  • Endemic surveillance societies
  • In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the USA and subsequent attacks as well as new surveillance technologies , increased tendencies towards intrusion into the private sphere have been lamented , for example by the data protection officers , but also by citizens' groups . RFID , eavesdropping, video surveillance , genetic databases or biometrics , such as those promoted by domestic politicians of the major parties, are guarantors of internal security and public order for proponents , as they would offer protection against terrorism . For opponents, they are more reminiscent of dystopias , i.e. negative utopias such as those created in literature by George Orwell or Aldous Huxley , and later by the authors of the cyberpunk genre, than images of horror.

    But business and advertising , with scoring ( Schufa ), market research measures and consumer profiling, pose an increasing threat to privacy for critics, while address trading, spam and phishing constitute a new gray area between legal harassment and fraudulent crime. Some crackers are able to penetrate government and company databases or private computers via the Internet and thus obtain some insight into the most intimate data.

    Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said in 2010 that privacy was "no longer a social norm". In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal , Zuckerberg announced a "privacy-focused vision for social networks".

    Technologies that endanger privacy

    New technologies have led to a loss of privacy today only by largely avoiding many modern "achievements" such as e. B. cell phones , debit cards and credit cards should be avoided. But even then, it is hardly possible to avoid many of the almost omnipresent surveillance technologies .

    Many Internet services and technologies are converging , whereby the comparatively strict European standards are often circumvented by foreign companies. For example, many users of social networks such as Facebook allow you to search their e-mail account or IPhone , save the addresses and use this to analyze social relationships in order to automatically find friends and acquaintances, and purchases on Amazon can automatically be Recommended to Facebook friends. Software now allows mobile phone photos to be automatically linked to profiles from social networks. For access to many areas, including official services such as the Federal Employment Agency , an e-mail address is required that actually enables separate data to be linked. The introduction of the future Internet Protocol IPv6 will probably make it much easier to assign people to the Internet addresses they use, since dynamic address assignment is then no longer technically necessary.

    Internet service providers are increasingly switching to linking personal data of users with those who have not entered it themselves. Significant theoretical and technical advances in the field of data mining , which have been made in recent years, help here. For example, it was reported that the online mail order company Amazon in Germany canceled a man's order because the boyfriend of his daughter, who was no longer living with her parents, was in arrears . The legality of such data links has so far only been inadequately regulated.

    Protection of privacy

    European law

    The protection of privacy is set out in Article 8 Right to Respect for Private and Family Life of the European Convention on Human Rights  (ECHR) of 1950.


    The protection of privacy in the German Basic Law is to be derived from the general right of personality ( Art. 2, Paragraph 1 in conjunction with Art. 1, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law). The special right of personality serves to protect a shielded area of ​​personal development. This should give people a specific area in which they can behave freely and informally, without having to fear that third parties will gain knowledge of their behavior or even observe or listen to them. The area of ​​protection is concretized through the inviolability of the home ( Art. 13 GG) and through the secrecy of post and telecommunications ( Art. 10 GG). The exceptions to this (wiretapping of telephone calls and apartments) are known as eavesdropping and are also regulated by law.

    Privacy can be divided into the following areas:

    1. The protection of personal data is anchored in state law in Germany (not in the Basic Law itself; see data protection )
    2. The inviolability of postal and telecommunications secrecy , laid down in Article 10 of the Basic Law, includes the security of the means of communication such as post , telephone , e-mail or others (see also data retention )
    3. The inviolability of the apartment: according to Article 13 of the Basic Law, judges may only order searches of the apartment if there is imminent danger.


    In Switzerland, privacy is protected by general norms ( Art. 13 of the Federal Constitution = protection against state attacks; Art. 28 of the Civil Code = protection against private attacks) as well as some special norms. It is only vulnerable to an overriding public or private interest.

    United States of America

    In the United States of America Privacy (has Privacy ) a long tradition from the fourth Amendment of the Constitution derives. The term privacy was in 1890 by the later Judge Louis Brandeis and the writer and attorney Samuel D. Warren in the article The Right to Privacy in the Harvard Law Review (Volume 4, no. 5) as the right to be let alone defined, so as the Right to be left alone.

    Unlike the EU and previously Germany and other EU states, the USA does not guarantee the right to all people, but only to their citizens (→ 4th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States , EU Charter of Fundamental Rights ).


    • “We know where you are. We know where you have been. We more or less know what you're thinking about. ”- Eric Schmidt
    • “Thoughts are free, who can guess them, they fly by like nocturnal shadows. No one can know them, no hunter can shoot them. It remains true: The thoughts are free! "  - (unknown author, complete lyrics and background )
    • "I can talk to my family and friends about God and the world, but not with God and the world about my closest relationships."  - Mathias Richling
    • “Privacy is like oxygen - you only appreciate it when it is missing”  - John Emontspool
    • “I think the only effective defense against the coming surveillance regime is to take steps to protect privacy, because the data octopuses, who can tap anything today, lack any incentive to restrict themselves. A historical analogy could be drawn with the prevalence of hand washing. Before more and more people were convinced of the advantages of hand hygiene, the germ theory first had to be generally recognized and popularized. Then you had to instill in people the fear of the spread of diseases in this way, of being infected by unsavory stuff on their hands that was invisible, just as mass surveillance is invisible. Once people had a sufficient understanding of it, the soap makers would then provide them with products to allay their fear of contagion. It is necessary to frighten people so that an understanding of the problem can develop, and eventually enough demand is created to solve the problem. However, there is also a downside of the equation, namely programs that claim to be secure through the use of cryptography, but which in reality are often sham packs because encryption is complex and the fraud can be hidden behind complexity. " Julian Assange , Cypherpunks, Campus Verlag Frankfurt / New York 2012, p. 74.

    In film and literature

    See also


    • Helmut Bäumler (Ed.): E-Privacy . Data protection on the Internet. Vieweg, Braunschweig / Wiesbaden 2000, ISBN 3-528-03921-3 .
    • Gernot Böhme / Ute Gahlings (ed.): Culture of privacy in the network society. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8498-1265-2 .
    • David Brin: The Transparent Society. Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Perseus Publishing, Reading, MA 1998, ISBN 0-7382-0144-8 .
    • Rafael Capurro : Ethics for Information Providers and Users. In: Anton Kolg et al: Cyberethics. Responsibility in the digitally networked world. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart / Berlin / Cologne 1998.
    • Guido Westkamp: Privacy & Publicity. Nomos, Baden-Baden 2011.
    • Diffie Whitfield, Susan Landau: Privacy on the Line. The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption. MIT Press, 1999.
    • Simson Garfinkel: Database Nation. The Death of Privacy in the 21st Century. O'Reilly, Sebastopol, CA et al. 2000, ISBN 1-56592-653-6 .
    • Sandro Gaycken , Constanze Kurz : 1984.exe - Social, political and legal aspects of modern surveillance technologies. Bielefeld 2008, ISBN 978-3-89942-766-0 .
    • John Gilliom: Overseers of the Poor. Surveillance, Resistance, and the Limits of Privacy. Chicago University Press, Chicago / London 2001, ISBN 0-226-29361-0 .
    • Ralf Grötker (Ed.): Private! Controlled freedom in a networked world. Heise Zeitschriften Verlag, Hanover 2003, ISBN 3-936931-01-1 .
    • Maximilian Hotter: privacy. The change of a liberal law in the age of the internet. Campus Verlag, Frankfurt am Main / New York 2011, ISBN 978-3-593-39407-7 .
    • Frederick S. Lane: The Naked Employee. How Technology is Compromising Workplace Privacy. AMACOM, New York et al. 2003, ISBN 0-8144-7149-8 .
    • Adrian Lobe: Saving and Punishing. Society in the data prison. Verlag CH Beck, Munich 2019, ISBN 978-3-406-74179-1 .
    • Karden D. Loch, Sue Conger, Effy Oz: Ownership, Privacy and Monitoring in the Workplace: A Debate on Technology and Ethic. In: Journal of Business Ethics. 17, 1998, pp. 653-663.
    • Michael Nagenborg, privacy under the framework of information and communication technology. VS Verlag, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-531-14616-5 .
    • Vance Packard : The Defenseless Society. Knaur, 1970
    • Beate Rössler : The value of the private. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 2001, ISBN 3-518-29130-0 .
    • Peter Schaar : The end of privacy. The way to the surveillance society. 1st edition. C. Bertelsmann, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-570-00993-2 .
    • Herman T. Tavani: Ethics & Technology. Ethical Issues in an Age of Information and Communication Technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2004, chap. 5: Privacy and Cyberspace. ISBN 0-471-45250-5 .
    • MJ van den Hoven: Privacy or Information Injustice? In: Lester J. Pourciau (Ed.): Ethics and Electronic Information in the Twenty-First Century. Purdue University Press, West Lafayette 1999.
    • Reg Whitaker: The End of Privacy. How Total Surveillance is becoming a Reality. The New Press, New York 1999, ISBN 1-56584-569-2 .

    Web links

    Wiktionary: Privacy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

    German sources:

    English sources:

    Individual evidence

    1. BVerfG, judgment of December 15, 1999, Az. 1 BvR 653/96, BVerfGE 101, 361 - Caroline von Monaco II.
    2. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Privacy: Why the Internet is similar to village life. Retrieved October 2, 2019 .
    3. ^ Bobbie Johnson, Las Vegas: Privacy no longer a social norm, says Facebook founder . In: The Guardian . January 11, 2010, ISSN  0261-3077 ( [accessed October 2, 2019]).
    4. A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking | Facebook. Retrieved October 2, 2019 .
    5. Mobile phone identifies those photographed via Facebook & Co. on: Heise-online - News. February 25, 2010.
    6. Unsubscribed. Family liability in the Amazon credit check. In: c't magazine for computer technology. Heise Verlag, Issue No. 1, December 21, 2009, pp. 66–67.
    7. BVerfG, decision of April 26, 1994, 1 BvR 1689/88, BVerfGE 90, 255 - letter monitoring.