Confidentiality may be justified on four premises. The first and most fundamental of these four premises relates to the autonomy of the individual over personal information. It maintains that the right of individual to have secrets should be respected. If individuals do not have a measure of control over secrecy and openness about themselves, their thoughts, intentions, and properties, they would not be able to maintain their privacy nor guard against danger. However, this right is not absolute and is to be set aside when it conflicts with the right of others. An example would be when an individual is afflicted with a contagious disease that endangers others in society. In this circumstance, the individual in question cannot claim a right to confidentiality. Also, there are a good number of issues over which an individual cannot claim a right of secrecy over, for instance, a broken arm or a habit of stealing.
Another way Confidentiality may be justified is the second premise, which is derived from the first, maintains that apart from the right to have secrets, there is also the cognate right to share them. It also assumes respect for human relationship and intimacy between humans. On the basis of this, the premise asserts first that it is natural and proper to respect the secrets of those that are intimate and associated with us and second that human relationships could not survive without such respect. This premise is primary in the marital privilege upheld in the American law that a spouse cannot be coerced to give evidence against the partner.
The third premise is that an oath of silence creates an obligation that is supposed to be binding. However, when questions are raised over the legitimacy of an obligation of secrecy that is based on an oath, further questions may be raised about the legitimacy of the oath in the first instance and if the person with whom the oath is made has any right to accept it. In addition, other questions may be raised to determine the circumstances that might justify overriding the oath.
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