Privacy Rights Are Property Rights

Privacy Rights Are Property Rights

Everybody has the right to privacy – even pipeline companies

Our recent post critiquing the reliance of some landowners on freedom of information (FOI) laws to help level the playing field when dealing with pipeline companies struck a chord with many landowners and seems to have touched a raw nerve for one irate industry critic. 

Indeed the gentleman who types the “Line 6B Citizens’ Blog” in Michigan waxed a wee bit hyperbolic in response to our pro property rights post. We will try to remain calm as we reiterate our respect for property rights fundamentals and disdain for regulatory schemes and pipe dreams.

We proceed from the premise that property rights are like the right to free speech: It is often said that we must defend the unpopular speech of our enemies if we want that freedom for ourselves.

So too must we defend the privacy and property rights of others – even if they are pipeline companies, the corporate pariahs of our era – if we wish to protect our own.

It was from this standpoint that we addressed HB 4540 — a proposed exemption for pipeline companies in Michigan’s FOI legislation, the stated purpose of which is to reduce the amount of information that might be accessible to those plotting terror attacks against the industry.

Our thesis was basically that so-called transparency laws are useless at best and a threat to property rights at worst. Not to mention generally bad for business — especially since, as we pointed out, FOI laws were conceived to keep government accountable, not there to provide a backdoor through which to monitor private companies.

We also suggested limiting the amount of information pipeline companies are forced to make public was hardly putting said public “at risk,” as opponents of the bill claim.

What seems to have set our erstwhile “friend” at the Line 6B Citizens’ Blog off was our saying that FOI laws are a threat to privacy and as such are a threat to property rights because privacy is part and parcel of private property.

The blogger let loose with a nearly 2000 word screed mischaracterizing CAEPLA’s case for privacy and property rights and casting aspersions on our integrity, cognitive capacity, and tone.

What really seems to have irked him most is our objection to the use of the word “secret” instead of “private,” when describing efforts to deny businesses – whether big bad corporate ones, or yours — the right to keep private what ought to be kept private. Corporate secrecy sounds so much more ominous than, say, ‘private business documents.’

Bizarrely, the “Citizens'” blogger then went so far as to attempt to deny what every English dictionary we are familiar with agrees on: that secret is synonymous with private. Seriously. The closest he came to any genuine attempt to address our argument was to desperately claim we were misusing language:

“The word secret is not another way of saying private; it’s a way of saying undisclosed. We have no idea why CAEPLA would try to smuggle the word “private” into this discussion. Presumably, it’s meant to push all sorts of buttons, since we all know that privacy is sacrosanct. You don’t want your privacy invaded, do you? That’s actually the line that CAEPLA takes. We’re not kidding. They say so very explicitly.”

We do say that.

Meanwhile, unsurprisingly, every dictionary we know of includes “private” on the list of synonyms for secret.

And an additional quick stroll through Wiktionary or any other reputable dictionary would reveal to our Line 6B “Citizens'” Blogger that privacy means “the state of being private,” and further defines private as all of the following:

“Belonging to, concerning, or accessible only to an individual person or a specific group.”

“Not publicly known; not open; secret;”

“Protected from view or disturbance by others;”

“Intended only for the use of an individual, group, or organization;”

“private papers;”

“Not accessible by the public;”

“private property;”

“Not traded by the public;”

“private corporation;”

 Etymological debates aside, CAEPLA believes too many landowners fail to challenge the essentially Big Government, anti-capitalist bias most pipeline opponents espouse.

We prefer the ideas embodied in the Magna Carta, and the Fourth Amendment, specifically that old-fashioned notion most Americans cling to, about “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects.”

CAEPLA believes that property rights provide the best framework for landowners to do business with the energy transport or any other industry. It is the absence of property rights — in the form of Eminent Domain and other expropriations — that creates the moral hazard and tragedy of the commons that too often encourages bad behaviour by pipeline companies.