The Value of Confidentiality

Writing for Eureka Street, Andrew Hamilton makes a very strong case for the value of confidentiality in public discourse, drawing on the various conversations that have been part of the ongoing discussion in the public domain of late.

At the heart of Hamilton’s argument, is the following paragraphs:

Does it matter that confidentiality is infringed in these ways? The value of confidentiality is grounded paradoxically in the value of conversation which is central for human flourishing. We are social animals for whom free communication is essential for our personal growth and for the development of society. Through it we make connections, develop our sense of ourselves, explore the areas of fear, doubt and guilt in our lives, make plans for our future and consult on matters of vital concern to other persons and groups.

Good conversation demands mutual trust. When it is deep and about delicate relationships, it must be protected by a surrounding wall of silence. Whatever of the law, it is lacking in decency for participants to disclose what is understood among them to be confined to the conversation group. It would be similarly unethical to bug others’ conversations, listen at keyholes, raid their wastepaper baskets for records, and to link the conversation to a loudspeaker blaring out over the town.

Confidentiality is something that should not be surrendered easily or for reasons that are dubious. The case for removing it must be a strong one in order to overcome a presumption in favour of confidentiality remaining. Otherwise we risk ceasing to be a community where humans have the ability to enter into relationship with other members of the community and becoming a community where relationships falter because of a pervasive distrust of other human beings.