It is an open secret that I am blessed with three daughters. Most people won’t be surprised that I very much like to keep my personal life as private as possible but I am told that my daughters resemble me so much that it is difficult to disguise the fact that they are my daughters – or that I love them so deeply. This much being said, I am not writing to tell you about their names or what they get up to. They happen to be adults, they are not public persona and they deserve their privacy too. (Each of them has actually read and OKed this text for publication). The simple point that I would like to make however is: three daughters and three quite different personalities. Same schools, same house, same parents, same University, same culture, same upbringing have produced three quite different characters. Why is this so? How did it happen and what did privacy have to do with it? My intention here is not to embark upon a scientific evaluation in the tradition of “nature and nurture” and why my daughters have ended up with the three very different personalities that they have but rather to examine the role that privacy has played in their journey to adulthood and beyond.

To a certain extent a parent must often exercise discretion in the same way as a politician i.e. deciding carefully when should one intervene and when one should leave well alone and when one should let somebody learn through experience rather than being told what to do. In this way a parent knows that children are constantly testing limits while parents establish boundaries but at the same time a wise parent creates as much space as possible for the child to develop within. While most parents aim to make this space as safe as possible, there are always risks within and outside that space that may harm the growing child physically, intellectually and emotionally.  Yet, unless a child, indeed any person, adult or otherwise, is given space within which to grow, then the development of that child’s personality may be adversely affected, stunted or even warped. Within that space however a person may learn to read freely, think freely and experiment with a number of things including love and sex.

So of course there were do’s and don’ts in our house. No smoking, no drugs, no drinking and driving were just some of the inflexible rules that live on to this day. Most everything else however was flexible and designed to eventually enable each of my daughters to be able to make their own informed choices. This meant a policy of maximising the flows of information in their direction so that they always had the maximum number of options to choose from: thousands of books, several computers, high-speed broadband WiFi in every room and so on. If these three young ladies did not access some information it was because they did not want to and not because they were constrained in any way. It was and remains a clear household policy that no personal choices are to be imposed on anybody. As they grew up, the social skills and emotional intelligence developed when sharing a room with siblings were gradually traded for the privacy of one’s own bedroom. Likewise, we wished them to discover and develop their own sexuality on their own terms within both virtual and physical private places. So yes, boyfriends were allowed to sleep over and if any one of our daughters ever wished to volunteer information about her private life then that was fine and if they did not that was also fine. Their individual privacy was and remains an integral contributor to a sense of dignity. For everybody has a right to dignity whether child or adult. One daughter may choose to communicate more about herself than another but that choice was and is accepted as a matter of fact, as a right and in most cases no questions are asked.

The kitchen and dining room tables were and remain a free market place of ideas and opinions, not all of which I find myself in agreement with. Our daughters were not told what they should do when they become older, they were simply encouraged to explore options by getting an education, in what subject mattered almost little. It was only when two of them got to their first-year University courses about an Introduction to Law and Information Technology that they discovered that this space, this bubble of privacy that we had allowed each of our three daughters to grow up in, actually also had strong foundations in law. For the constitutions of countries as geographically far apart as Brazil and Germany – and several others in between and beyond – explicitly provide for an over-arching fundamental right to the free, unhindered development of one’s personality as well as the right to human dignity. For thirty years and more I have thought that if you deny a person privacy then you are hindering that person from developing his or her own personality. Which is why we have brought up our daughters in the way we have. Which is also why I have decided to start up this blog and which is also why I have recently accepted to be appointed as the UN’s first Special Rapporteur for Privacy.

A careful reader will note that I have not only mentioned privacy but also the flows of information and the free market-place of ideas. For privacy is not the only important fundamental right that one studies in the subject we call Information Law. Freedom of expression and information are also essential rights which, through multiple competing flows of information enable a free individual to learn about and choose from several options. Yet, it seems to me that while they are stand-alone rights, identified as separate different rights in different articles of the law, both privacy and freedom of expression are not ends in themselves but enabling rights. They exist principally to provide the right conditions for a human being to discover and develop their own personality in the greatest freedom possible. In this sense therefore both privacy and freedom of expression exist to facilitate the over-arching right to free, unhindered development of one’s personality. Which is why they are extremely precious rights. This blog is being created as a forum for ideas about privacy and personality as well as neighbouring rights like freedom of expression. I look forward to many colleagues and readers joining in a healthy and respectful debate.