The factors underlying the emergence of privacy as a critical legal and psychological factor are evident in the very purposes of the construct in modern society. In psychology, the definition of privacy emphasizes the regulation of, and/or exemption from unwanted access, surveillance, and scrutiny. On the other hand, the legal definition emphasizes decisional privacy i.e. the right to choose one’s involvement in public or private without unreasonable government interference. Effectively, the most important motivation behind the emergency privacy as an important psycho-legal construct is the erosion of private spaces, in part due to the increased power of intrusive technologies, mass media and government power. Maintenance of reserve anonymity, reserve, intimacy and solitude was rendered more difficult. The legal definition grew out of the need to protect private citizens from the growing power of governments (the Big Brother) to conduct intrusive surveillance/investigations than was possible in previous years. This is in part why the Fourth Amendment specifically protects criminal suspects from unreasonable searches by law enforcement agencies (Margulis, 2003; Martin, 2012).
As a psychological construct, the emergency of privacy has roots in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory (in addition to heightened intrusiveness), and the increased potential for self-actualization in the latter half of the 20th century. Societies across the world have become markedly more prosperous. The US and Western Europe enjoyed tremendous economic growth and prosperity, which according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, leads people to seek to satisfy higher needs. With increased self-actualization, needs such as privacy, human dignity, personal autonomy, and intimacy became more emphasized. Privacy allows social and psychological depth, protecting things that may not thrive with constant public scrutiny.
Margulis, S. (2003). Privacy as a social issue and behavioral concept. Journal of Social Issues, 59(2), 243-261.
Martin, K. (2012). Diminished or Just Different? A Factorial Vignette Study of Privacy as a Social Contract. Journal Of Business Ethics, 111(4), 519-539. doi:10.1007/s10551.