[FoRK] Why didn't privacy matter before 1700s? (was: iPhone users' precise locations)

Russell Turpin russell.turpin at gmail.com
Tue Jun 22 06:25:09 PDT 2010

Two possible answers.

First, there was an explosion in information technology. The centuries
between the end of the middle ages and the start of the Enlightenment
saw the spread of writing as something used by the ordinary person.
Where computers were once expensive and their use reserved to a few
with special training, so too was paper and ink. Try finding a diary
or pedestrian letter prior to the 16th century. By the end of the 18th
century, ordinary tradesfolk and workers are penning letters, writing
diaries, keeping written accounts of their spending, etc. With the
rise of information persisted in a written record, there came the
social and legal question of access to it. Note the explicit call out
of "papers" in the 4th amendment.

Second, there wasn't much concern with surveillance, and very few
tools for doing so. There was nothing that would record an image or
sound. Being seen or heard typically meant by another person with
unaided eye or ear. Spyglasses became navigation and military tools
after Galileo invented them, but were not something an ordinary person
would own, or even the local constabulary. So knowledge of events and
even of personal identity was located only in those who were there to
witness the events and people concerned.

More information about the FoRK mailing list