How private is our property?

phone_cord_cut pic

Citlali V- Honorbound What is private property? When one thinks of private property usually the typical red sign hanging from a fence is usually what might appear in someone’s mind. In other words we think of actual land or physical items we own and are in control of for the most part at least. In order to fully understand the extent of privacy we have on our property we must first understand what exactly is it and what items fall under its category. According to private property is “Tangible and intangible things owned by individuals or firms over which their owners have exclusive and absolute legal rights, such as land, buildings, money, copyrights, patents, etc.” [1]  Therefore the previous definition of private property introduced at the beginning of the paragraph was not all that wrong; however, the key words in this definition are “intangible things. “Any come to mind yet? Here’s a clue, one of the main means of communication between humans is through our cell phones, more specifically through text messages as well as phone calls. Therefore according to this definition our text messages and phone calls are also considered our private property.

One of the most respected and known writers is Ludwig von Mosis, whom wrote a piece regarding liberty, private property and how both are influenced by the government. Over all throughout Liberty and Property, he explains that with hard work and contribution one is allowed to have property or riches. However he does not specify as to whether he agrees with it being private and off limits to others. Although he does make it very clear that in a government there cannot be liberty. Therefore in order to keep property private we would need the liberty from the government to do so. He also says that liberty is freedom from the government or in other words it is impossible, no matter the type of government, to truly have liberty present in a society.

Now that we have established what the definition of private property is, and how any cell phone activity is included, we can now see if our privacy is respected. In April 2014 records showed that the US claimed third in the entire world for the most amounts of mobile phones in use with 327,577,529 people using their cellular devices.[2] Ironically this is even more than the entire American population. From a “Good Morning” to a simple “What’s Up?” on average 6 million text messages are sent every day. Due to the fact that sometimes you use text messages or even phone calls to discuss private matters it would be logical to assume that they would remain just that, private matters. It would also be logical to assume that the message is private because it is coming from a mobile device of some sort, which you pay for and own, that you use as a means of communication. Unfortunately the reality is exactly the opposite.

Since usually most important matters are not left to share through text messages, but phone calls that exactly what government targets.  Although the government cannot listen to the actual “content of your conversation they can collect “metadata” which includes the phone numbers of both parties on a call, plus locations of the users and the time and length of all calls.”[3] With this “metadata” the government can track just as much if not even more than what they could find out if they actually had access to the conversation. For example in the case of a legal matter, they could see a call from a police department, then a call to a lawyer then to a family member just from the metadata they collect.  Well how are they doing this you may ask? Well in 2006 Verizon Wireless joined forces with the government allowing it to have access to the metadata of all of their customers. Verizon Wireless customers are not in any way warned or informed of this program and that fact that their phone call patterns will be monitored by the government. This program also includes other companies such as Facebook and even Gmail. Is the government stepping too far in monitoring even what is meant to be private whether they are phone calls or even emails for that matter?

One of the things the US is known for throughout the world is for being the land of opportunity and liberty. Specifically Ludwig von Mises defines liberty as the “freedom from government.” Therefore one would think that our private matters, at least spoken through our mobile devices which we own, would be free from the government looking over our shoulders at every hour of the day.  Although Ludwig von Mises says, in Liberty and Property, that “Government is essentially the negation of liberty”, he also says that “Government is a necessary institution because it is the only available means to make human coexistence possible.” Therefore should we merely accept the fact that our invasion of privacy is just one of the results of having a government? If your answer is yes then what is the difference between the government just about going through our phone and them coming into our house without a warrant whenever they feel like it? This is something you should think about the next time you send a text or make a phone call to using your mobile device.

However in order for you to make your decision, you must be provided both sides of this controversial subject. Despite the fact that the governments tracking of our cell phone use it has helped solve criminal cases. Some of these cases have been minor and others have been very serious and would have possibly caused another horrible memory for Americans. Recently Representative Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who runs the House Intelligence Committee, said that “within the last few years, this program was used to stop a terrorist attack in the United States.”[4]  Therefore despite the government’s lack of respect towards our privacy this program has proved not to be completely useless.

As citizens of the United States we must still not forget that the right to private property is not a conventional one but a natural one.  Pope Leo XIII agrees in his Encyclical, Rerum Novarum, when he says that “…we have proof that private ownership is in accordance with the law of nature.” Therefore in accordance with Pope Leo, the governments monitoring of our means of communication is in direct violation of our natural right of private property.  He also further explains that “man alone among the animal creation is endowed with reason- it must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living things do…” Therefore, according to Pope Leo XIII not only do we have the right to private property because we because it agrees with the law of nature but also for the mere fact that we are the only species with enough reason to have it. Despite both of these things our government fails to respect that right.

Does this violation of our right coincide with what Ludwig von Mises describes as government being the negation of liberty or would even he be appalled at how far it has crossed the line?

It is safe to say that the government’s lack of privacy to our own personal property is not only disrespectful but also does not show characteristics of a country that promotes liberty. von Mises defines liberty as freedom from the government. As of matter of fact our government, in accordance with Ludwig is showing characteristics of “the opposite of liberty”, as would any government in his opinion. He believes that governments deny liberty and then he continues to state that liberty can “prevail only in the fields in which the citizens have the opportunity to choose the way in which they want to proceed”, which is something the US government is not doing as far as their monitoring policy regarding our mobile devices. Therefore when looking at our government’s actions as well as the statements of Ludwig von Mises our government is being exactly what he describes as being a government when he says “As far as the government’s jurisdiction extends, there is coercion, not freedom.” Therefore in his eyes our government is merely taking an action that directly violates our natural right of private property and that’s that.

No matter the reason I personally do not think it is and will even be acceptable to allow our government to invade our private property. That being said I do agree with von Mises when he states that governments are a necessity. Unfortunately governments everywhere do not win awards for being nice rather being effective. So whats the other option? Get rid of the government? Quite honestly, let’s face it, if we didn’t have a government we would have something like anarchy and chaos. Therefore we are just like a child in the sense that we need to be continuously reminded of who is in charge even if we don’t like the way the government takes action.




Works Cited:

“How the Government Is Tracking Your Movements.” Accessed June 26,

Dont Spy on Me. Photograph. Accessed June 25, 2014.

Mises, Ludwig von. Liberty and Property.

Pope Leo XIII. Rerum Novarum.


“Top 10 Countries by Number of Highest Mobile Phone Users.”
Accessed June 26, 2014.

Weinstein, Adam. “The Government’s Phone, Text, and Email Spying,
Explained.” Last modified October 25, 2013. Accessed June 26,

“What is private property?” Accessed June 25, 2014.

“Wireless Quick Facts.” Last modified June 2014. Accessed June 25,



[1] Adam Weinstein, “The Government’s Phone, Text, and Email Spying, Explained,”, last modified October 25, 2013, accessed June 26, 2014,

[2] “Top 10 Countries by Number of Highest Mobile Phone Users,”, accessed June 26, 2014,


[3] IBID

[4] Weinstein, Adam. “The Government’s Phone, Text, and Email Spying, Explained.” Last modified October 25, 2013. Accessed June 26, 2014.



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