Is the Benefit Worth the Cost?

There have been many times where I have voluntarily given up different parts of my freedom. If I’m going to a public event my bag is almost always checked, when I’m starting a new job I’m expected to go through multiple background checks, and when flying I am processed patted down and checked. The reason why I give up part of my essential freedoms in this country is to make sure that I am safe, it is also the same reason why I expect others to give up some of their freedoms as well; in hopes that we make society safer as a whole. The majority of the time people give up their privacy, is in order to gain something in return; usually safety. But what if your privacy is being violated and the thing that is given in return isn’t substantial.

In A Biography of the First Amendment by Anthony Lewis we go in depth about several cases where people’s rights were violated not to enhance the safety of the greater public, but merely for entertainment. We went in depth about a child named William James Sidis, a child that was essentially raised and groomed to be a genius he eventually filled suits because he felt as though his privacy was being violated. Unfortunately, he lost the case for several reasons. The first reason he lost was because he was seen as a public figure, from all of his years in the spotlight as a child. The second reason why he lost was because Judge Clark “concluded, the public had a legitimate interest in learning how the onetime boy genius had turned out” (Lewis, 61). The judge allowed this young man to become a spectacle within society through no fault of his own. He never stepped into the spotlight but was forced to remain within it. Another example that the book describes is a true story where an entire family is held hostage, although they are respected and treated somewhat acceptably throughout the ordeal the play based on the true event made the entire ordeal something completely different as they added abuse to the story. The wife became distressed as her life was not only put on display for all to see but was inaccurately described, the family eventually sued but lost and later after that, the wife committed suicide. Again, the majority of people would give up some of their privacy, but what if your privacy is violated? The family never asked for their story to be told and furthermore the story wasn’t turned into a play to educate people about hostage situations and how to protect yourself; but was altered to be more suspenseful and dangerous in order to entertain people more.

As I continued to reflect upon these two cases it became extremely clear that most of the shows we watch today also violate citizens privacy. We are a culture that allows exploitation of one another in order to be entertained whether that be from watching shows like Law & Order SVU (Special victims unit, involving crimes of a sexual nature) that describe in detail true stories of assaults and deaths or shows like Cops that show people as criminals before they are even found to be guilty.



One thought on “Is the Benefit Worth the Cost?

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  1. I like the way you highlight the ways in which we all make compromises. You cite examples though that are less about privacy and more about government intrusion (search etc)- though they are certainly related as the legal “right” to privacy itself derives partly from the 4th Amendment. Your point holds though about the way in which we are willing to compromise on our rights for a perceived benefit.
    The cases at issue, not only do not provide benefit for those whose privacy was violated, but actually cause harm. Additionally, they can hardly be seen as having consented to the abridgment of their rights. Additionally these are cases involving private companies (in this case- news outlets) acting and not the government.
    We might also think about the conception of privacy in a wold in which people regularly and indeed, routinely divulge personal information on social media. Have we outgrown any conception of privacy or are we in desperate need of a new privacy definition and private sphere?


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