In another thread (linked here), there arose a question about the morality of inspecting another person’s computer files without his permission or knowledge. In this instance, it was only inspection; nothing was altered or deleted. It seems “obvious” to me that this is at least damaging to relationships among men, and possibly immoral, but so far I cannot find any clear explanation or guidance on this. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in several places, that we should respect the privacy rights of others, but it doesn’t explain the basis for privacy rights, at least not to my satisfaction. Here’s what I found:
IV. Respect for the Truth
2488 The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.
2489 Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.
2492 Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.
The Catechism also has something to say about private ownership of goods (property rights vs. the universal destination of goods, #2402-2408) that may be applicable to privacy rights, but it’s not a direct answer.
Also I found an article on electronic information privacy (linked here) which offers this brief explanation:
From a moral and ethical perspective, one could argue that abrogation of privacy rights grants extraordinary power to certain individuals, thereby diminishing the rights of others in society.
While this is helpful, I feel it is incomplete.
Can anyone offer a better explanation?