In this thesis I critically examine the traditional account of privacy as a negative right of non-interference and offer instead an alternative framework based on obligations and trust.
Privacy is most often described as a value best protected as a right, more accurately as a negative right of non-intrusion. This means that privacy is associated with the private sphere: the individual should be left to decide when he wants to be alone and what he wants to share with others. I begin with an examination of three different distinctions between the public and the private and then I go on to examine two models of privacy: the separation model, where privacy consists of restricted access, and the control model which consists in individual control over certain aspects of one's life. I argue that these models fail to meet many privacy concerns. This becomes most apparent when examining the privacy challenges associated with information technology and biobanks.
My alternative account of privacy recognizes how deeply privacy is embedded in social norms and structure. Privacy does not apply to situations where an individual is in isolation, but rather depends on relations to others. This means that privacy is a relational concept: it is an important value in structuring relations between individuals or social institutions. I argue that the framework of rights does not provide an appropriate framework for protecting privacy. Instead, I introduce a framework based on obligations and trust, inspired by Onora O’Neill’s account of perfect and imperfect obligations.