Privacy and Rule of Law: A Double-edged Sword

One of Altman’s primary rules of law states that law has the ability to govern in a way that arbitrary human decision-making does not. While I support this rule of law, I’m having a hard time rationalizing how certain facets of law—particularly laws pertaining to privacy—adhere to Altman’s stipulation.

There are both good and bad consequences of bringing law into private spheres. On one hand, law can advocate for, protect, and defend victims of domestic violence and abuse. On the other hand, though, law can impose itself on private, consensual acts or be swayed by societal norms and public opinion.

What I can’t seem to justify is the seemingly arbitrary decisions that have come from the instances of privacy in law that we’ve discussed in class. Who’s to say that acts of consenting adults in the privacy of their own home are providing an immoral disservice to the public? Who’s to say that certain instances of domestic abuse are too “embarrassing” or “shameful” to bring to light, while other instances necessitate lawful intervention? Where do you draw the line between what is reprehensible by law and what goes unpunished (or even unacknowledged)? Furthermore, what differentiates the criteria for a private act versus a public act when the two are so closely intertwined?

To me, the answer seems quite simple: law should be able to intervene into private matters when people are proactive and seek the law’s intervention. Law should not, however, be intrusive or subjected to the undue influence of society, as it often seems to be. Maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but there must be a way for instances of privacy in law to be less arbitrary and more democratic; more rational. I know that private matters often have moral components that complicate law’s proceedings, but even morality should not take away from the intrinsic, righteous nature that privacy in law should have.

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