Privacy Rights and National Security: Finding a Reasonable Balance


In today’s highly digitized society, issues of online privacy are constantly being raised, along with issues of national security. Take Tiktok as an example, it has been the subject of much recent controversy, has faced questions about privacy and national security issues in the U.S. and some other countries. However, I think both tiktok and other software face user privacy issues, it’s just that tiktok originally comes from a country with a different social system, so it exacerbates some capitalist countries’ concerns about national security. When it comes to the right to privacy, they have different definitions on a legal and moral level, and everyone defines and pursues privacy differently. Like in socialist countries, such as China, the people don’t seem to have as high a demand for privacy, and to some extent, the reason behind this is pursued to be that the collective consciousness of the people is stronger under the idea of communism than in capitalist countries. Capitalist countries, like the U.S., are more focused on the concept of the individual, the ego, so there will be a higher demand for privacy. National security is dominated by the State and the people of that State. Therefore, on the basis of ensuring a basic consensus on the right to privacy, it is reasonable for different countries to have different definitions of the right to privacy. Derived from this, behaviors involving intrusion into personal privacy for the sake of national security also vary from country to country. Thus, as I understand it, after ensuring the most basic right of privacy, there are political and institutional issues, which are the task of each country. In short, I think it’s reasonable to sacrifice some personal privacy for the sake of national security.

The right to privacy is grounded in social and legal contexts 

First of all, let’s talk about what is right to privacy. The right to privacy is a human right which grounded in particular social and legal contexts (Flew, 2021). “The right of privacy should be protected as a guarantor of physical security, liberty of conscience, control over personal space, non-discrimination on the basis of one’s medical condition, sexual orientation, or disability, and freedom from arbitrary intrusion” (Flew, 2021). Moreover, it embodies the prerogative to determine the extent to which one’s personal details are shared with others. Privacy rights fundamentally include the liberty to enjoy solitude, the confidentiality of personal life details, secure personal communications, and control over personal data. In essence, the right to privacy grants individuals sovereignty over their personal data. This covers identifiable personal information like names, identification numbers, addresses, phone numbers – all inherently private and warranting protection from non-consensual access or utilization. It extends to the sanctity of private conversations, whether through phone calls, emails, social media engagements, etc., safeguarding these interactions from unauthorized surveillance or interception. In the digital era, data privacy gains crucial importance, addressing the information generated through online activities such as online shopping and social media use. This includes but is not limited to, search queries, purchase details, and location tracking, advocating against their unauthorized collection, usage, or sale. However, people are not very confident about their online privacy. “A majority of our respondents do not feel in control of their privacy online. While a majority take active steps to protect their privacy (67%), and have changed settings on the social media they use most often (61%), a minority (38%) feel they can control their privacy online” (Goggin, 2017). And physical privacy pertains to bodily autonomy and health-related data, including medical and genetic records, advocating against non-consensual medical interventions or data disclosure. The protection of thought and expression privacy is equally critical, defending individuals against infringements on their beliefs, feelings, and expressions, ensuring a society where free thought and speech are unrestricted by fear of reprisal or bias. The quintessence of privacy rights revolves around autonomy and control, affirming that individuals should have the authority to dictate the terms on which their personal information is collected, utilized, and disseminated. As technology advances, the definition and scope of right to privacy evolves, yet its core principles and values remain universally acknowledged, despite varying levels of protection and enforcement across different nations and regions.

What is more important?

Then, let’s talk about national security. National security is considered to be the responsibility of the its government. It protects their people, economy and political system from external threats. At the same time, it aims to safeguard national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interests, political stability and economic development. Initially, national security used to be considered to be the prevention of military attacks, but it now includes many non-military aspects as well. Cybersecurity is also one of these important aspects, which refers to the security of devices such as computers and smartphones as well as networks. It involves the security of hardware, software, data, and people. It is an area that has become increasingly important due to the digitalization of society. Cyberspace is now also considered a field of warfare. That’s why many countries are becoming more cautious in the area of cybersecurity. Like the aforementioned Tiktok case, some countries are concerned that their citizens’ information is being monitored and threatens their national security. American political scientist Harold Lasswell said, “the distinctive meaning of national security is freedom from foreign direction” (1950). And Arnold Wolfers, a Swiss-American international relations scholar, mentioned, “National security objectively means that established values are not threatened, and subjectively it means that there is no fear that those values will be attacked” (1960). How does sacrificing a portion of personal privacy help maintain national security? First, state surveillance of personal communications and transactions can help investigate and prevent terrorist activities, drug smuggling, espionage, and other crimes against national security. There is also the fact that access to personal information can help in rescue in natural disasters or unexpected accidents. But this is all built under the law and must not be done arbitrarily or with excessive infringement. At the same time, the public should have the right to regulate this to prevent abuse. Then, what is more important? Is it the protection of the country from the threat of terrorist attacks, or the protection of the individual’s right to privacy? Dr.Thuraisingham, a leading expert in integrating cybersecurity, has served on national security, database technology, and privacy panels, and has delivered a variety of keynote speeches at venues such as the White House and the United Nations. She said that a portion of his audience believes that they don’t mind sacrificing privacy if it keeps the country safe. However, they don’t want to sacrifice privacy for a false sense of security. On the other hand, they feel that some security measures are better than none. Therefore, even if national security cannot be guaranteed, sacrificing privacy is not a problem if a certain level of security can be provided. However, there are some who say that they will not sacrifice privacy in any case (Thuraisingham, 2002).

Commonwealth v. Kurtz Case

Here is a case about personal privacy and national security called Commonwealth v. Kurtz. This case took place in the State of Pennsylvania in the United States and is still ongoing. The main issue in this case was the use of reverse search techniques by the police to access search engine records as a means of identifying people who had searched a particular address at a particular time. This practice led to the conviction of John Edward Kurtz on multiple charges in 2021. The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s ruling that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in private Internet searches allows law enforcement to issue search warrants to companies such as Google without first identifying the suspect. The decision has sparked a wide-ranging discussion about the status of digital activity under privacy protections. In response to the ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and organizations led by librarians filed an amicus brief against the Pennsylvania Supreme Court arguing that search history should be protected under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution. Their argument is that Internet search histories reveal an individual’s deeper thoughts, feelings, and inquiring intentions, therefore deserve a higher degree of protection than library records. Librarians and courts nationwide have recognized the need to protect the privacy of individuals’ reading and querying habits, especially in terms of how to balance the needs of law enforcement with the protection of individual privacy rights. This case points to the challenge for law enforcement agencies of balancing people’s right to privacy with the protection of their personal security. At the core is the need to deal with the privacy rights of the individuals involved in the case in a reasonable and lawful manner, while fulfilling the mandate to protect national security. Therefore, the outcome of the case on appeal may set an important precedent for how privacy should be protected in the future. Defining the boundaries of law enforcement access to personal digital information. This relates not only to the Kurtz case, but also to the broader issue of maintaining privacy and legal boundaries in the digital age (Commonwealth v. Kurtz, 2024).

Legislation on the right to privacy

Legislation on the right to privacy exists in many countries, for example, the Australian Privacy Act, the Japan Act on the Protection of Personal Information, the EU General Data Protection Regulation, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and so on. These laws emphasize the importance of privacy protection and bind businesses and organizations. And, as the digital society continues to evolve, these laws continue to improve. Although the law imposes an obligation to protect the right to privacy, in practice it is still common for governments to implement electronic surveillance. A report from the United Nations reveals that the intelligence services of a number of countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, monitor the digital communications of their own and foreign citizens. This massive electronic surveillance is becoming a dangerous habit that violates people’s right to privacy. The report calls on Member States to review and improve their legislation, practices and procedures to ensure the protection of the right to privacy in digital communications. And it emphasizes the need for States to demonstrate the necessity and appropriateness of surveillance when it is carried out, in accordance with international human rights law (Huang, 2024).

The safer the country, the freer the people

So, as individuals, what can we do to preserve the right to privacy as much as possible and to balance the relationship between personal privacy and national security? First of all, I believe that the relationship between citizens’ right to privacy and national security are not opposites. The more secure and stable the country is, the more freedom the people will have. The right to privacy is a recognized human right and is at the heart of freedom. When we have it means that we are free to deal with our bodies, who can we share our personal information with, and who has the right to monitor our lives. If a modest sacrifice of a portion of our right to privacy can be exchanged for the security of the state, it can be beneficial to us as individuals. The country is made up of individuals. The safer the country, the freer the people. I’m sure many people agree with this idea. How much of our privacy rights should be conceded then is a question worth exploring. it It is understandable that every country has different answer. Since, after all, it related to the rights of each country and its people. At the same, each country has a different political system and different cultural context. However, I argue that this should all be based on satisfying the most basic right to privacy.


Overall, in the digital age, the balance between the right to privacy and national security is delicate and complex. Many countries have encroached on people’s right to privacy, to a greater or lesser extent, either explicitly or implicitly, which seems understandable from the perspective of national security. Through the exploration on the right to privacy and national security in this blog, and also the case from California, we can conclude that while the right to personal privacy should not be viewed as absolutely inviolable, any restriction on it must be scrutinized to ensure that it is not only consistent with the law, but also with our shared understanding of the values of liberty and security. Only then can we protect individual privacy while ensuring national security and the public interest.


Thuraisingham , B. (2002). Data mining, national security, privacy and civil liberties. ACM SIGKDD Explorations Newsletter, 4(2), 1-5.

Flew T. Issues of Concern. In: Regulating Platforms . Polity; 2021:72-79.

Goggin, G. (2017). Digital Rights in Australia. The University of Sydney.

Commonwealth v. Kurtz. ACLU.

Huang, L. (2024). Privacy in the digital age: Human rights offline should also be protected online (6:47). United Nations.

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