Rabbi Dov Schochet (CYS College)

Privacy through the Prism of Torah

Our personal information has become big business. What we look at, where we shop and our tendencies.  Who owns that information about ourselves? What can the Torah teach us in navigating these thorny, difficult questions?

There are two main avenues to explore how a canon of law that is millenia old and codified in the Talmud over a thousand years ago can relate to digital information.

Ownership: much of what we take for granted today, and in fact the foundation of much of the American economy, namely intellectual property, is questionable in the Halachic system. The idea of intellectual property is nothing new. As long as there were books, they had authors but ownership of words and ideas we create isn’t recognized by Halacha. Ownership requires something tangible, so this would undercut the basic argument for laws regarding our digital footprint. If we don’t own it, can we control it?  But in the Torah system ownership might not be required to enforce restrictions.

Privacy: from the inception of the Jewish nation, privacy was recognized as a critical value. One of the great blessings we received from the prophet Balaam, recited daily in our prayers, relates to this value. Privacy was not only recognized as valuable, but became an enforceable right, a right against visual intrusion. Can this be the source for data legislation? Is the law limited to tangible objects or can it be extended to our digital cookies?