The Growth of Privacy; Day 2 – Home Truths
JANUARY 29, 2020
I was fortunate to grow up in the same small community in which I now live and from which I work (though as it happens the community which I serve is now a vast global one). It is on the South Coast of Ireland in west cork, a beautiful and friendly place in which I am privileged to live and now raise my own family.
Small communities are wonderful and terrible; all at the same time. The great Irish writer John McGahern speaks with deep piercing insights about Irish rural life. He describes an oppressive compulsion of mutuality that could exist in small agricultural communities.
You see, rural neighbours, particularly in remote and settled communities of modest means tend to end up together by accident of birth and don’t have much choice in how things go. Neighbours are bound together in mutual obligation when help or co-operation is needed it must be given, as it will inevitably need to be reciprocated.
McGahern describes a person who was often envied in Irish rural life as the one who got the government job, even a modest one as a teacher, a local authority worker or whatever; that broke the link of obligation, they had an independent means and might have been great neighbours but were not bound for their basic continued agrarian survival on one another.
So, small communities can bring out the very best in people but can also be stifling if you can’t or just don’t want to fit it and do what everyone else has always done. Apart from sheer economic necessity, this is a huge part of why so many Irish people emigrated to cities in England and North America, to be free to express their own identities; be themselves without having to fit in.
And small communities love news and gossip. Well, of course, all human groups love news and gossip, but in small communities, it is disproportionately valued, as there tends to be that much less going on.
I was very fortunate in my parents growing up in this small community; one way to achieve self-determination in rural Ireland was a state job, the other was education. My father was born the eldest son on a farm and in the ordinary course of things should have become a farmer. But he chose not to and decided he wanted to get an education, in law of all things.
This was a decision and desire for expression of self that wasn’t very popular with my grandfather at the time, who initially had hoped he’d have had someone to stay and help him; you see, in small rural communities everyone must do their bit and what is expected of them. But my Dad persevered and ultimately became a solicitor. He married my mother who was later attracted to the career he had chosen and went back to study law herself while raising a young family and became a solicitor too.
So I grew up in a house with two solicitors for parents. A very unusual thing in a rural community in West Cork at the time. Incidentally, I have three brothers, two of whom also become solicitors. My other brother became a barrister. He was the black sheep; law it appears had become a genetic mutation in our family.
And the thing that most strikes me about growing up in our household was the value that was placed on confidentiality. Not secrecy and the maintenance or keeping of secrets from one another, but the respecting of the confidentiality of others.
My parents through their work would have been exposed to some very intimate knowledge of many people in their own small community. Information that would have been most valuable raw material for gossip. While we would sit with our parents and discuss the events of the day over dinner, all of the ordinary things of the life would be up for discussion, but if they were aware of something that they had come to know from their professional lives, the confidentiality of that would be strictly observed; to the extent that, particularly as younger children, we wouldn’t have been aware that they had known anything about it at all. And so this idea of very clear boundaries in terms of what we knew and could share was always something that was deeply ingrained within our family.
Of course, confidentiality is only one dimension of privacy; it is necessary but not always sufficient for the maintenance and fostering of privacy and respect for personal data. But it is there at the core as an element and looking back on it know I was fortunate to grow up in a culture in which a healthy respect for confidentiality and the privacy and individuality of others was always a prominent part of how we thought about the world.
Flor McCarthy is one of Ireland’s leading lawyers and a recognised expert in marketing. He has particular expertise and hands-on practical experience in privacy, data protection and GDPR issues for marketers. He is certified by the Law Society of Ireland in Data Protection Practice and lectures lawyers on data protection practice and compliance. He is managing partner of a multi award winning niche legal practice. He has been in private practice for over 20 years and has been elected by his peers to sit on the exclusive Council of the Law Society of Ireland, the governing body for Irish lawyers.
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