Regulatory commissions seldom include privacy considerations in making telecommunications policy or establishing rates. Yet communications is at root based on the selective desire to communicate; the right to be let alone, free of communications, is for some as important as the affirmative right to communicate.
The following essay addresses the public's interest in privacy alongside the parallel public policy supporting universal service. As converging technologies make telephones and video systems more and more alike, the interest in ensuring privacy--the ability to prevent someone from looking in on us--will grow.
Daniel L. Brenner
When we think abstractly about privacy, we tend to order it among the most cherished values of liberty in an ordered society, alongside freedom of speech and religion. But our sensitivity to privacy interests varies with circumstances.
When we decide to board an airplane, we virtually line up for privacy invasions. When we use our credit card, we give out information--from our home phone number to what kind of tipper we are--to a host of people who we never meet face to face. Shop for batteries at Radio Shack or a toaster at Circuit City, and you'll be asked politely, but firmly, for your home address by someone you don't know wearing an orange vest.
Privacy is situational. Some invasions are serious, if not revolting. Others are irritating but not serious. And others we willingly endure in order to get something in return.
In the scheme of things, telephone privacy is not necessarily the most profound concern. In the age of AIDS, divulging a person's HIV antibody status is a privacy matter of great significance in terms of employment opportunity and social stigma. In the age of electronic banking, divulging a person's credit rating can restrict social and economic mobility.____________________