The right to privacy is one the Jewish law views with great seriousness. It is rooted in the Jewish concept of tzniut , modesty, which serves as a cornerstone of Jewish values. Judaism developed the notion of hezek reiyah , that the viewing of private matters is an actionable tort. While one can establish certain property rights over time this is not the case vis a vis privacy. If for example no protest is lodged by my "trespassing" on your property for use as a shortcut, an easement will be granted allowing continuing use of the property despite the owners change of heart. However despite many years of open access between our backyards at any moment I can force you to pay your proportionate share of the costs of building a fence. Privacy rights take precedence over established practice.
Furthermore Jewish law forbids constructing a window through which one can see into a neighbour's backyard. If one wants to sunbathe, or do any other activity, in their own backyard they must be allowed to do so without fear of their neighbour's intrusion. Thus a Jewish court would issue an injunction forcing the owner of the window to cover it up. This is the case even if the window is high above normal eye level - the protestations that one can get a ladder and thus reach the window are accepted. Only the explicit permission of the neighbour would allow one to open a window overlooking the backyard. Even when permission is granted it applies only to looking into a "courtyard". Having a window of one home face the window of a neighbour is inappropriate and even if permission were explicitly given it may be withdrawn at any time. Rashi interprets the heathen Bila'ams words "How goodly are you tents O Jacob your dwelling places O Israel" as referring to the fact that the doorways ways of the Jews in the desert did not face one another. Unfortunately with governments and developers trying to put the maximum number of homes on the minimum amount of space many of our neighbourhoods are built in violation of this principle.
The prohibition of using ones eyes to invade privacy extends to other areas as well. In a famous enactment Rabbeinu Gershom the leader of Askenazic Jewry at the turn of the 11th century elevated the prohibition of readings someone's else's mail to one of cherem, or excommunication. Violators would be considered communal pariahs even in death as no mourning rituals were to be observed for those in cherem and their remains were not be interred in a Jewish cemetery. No dispensation is allowed if one comes across private material through no fault of one's own; the prohibition of reading the correspondence of others applies even if the letter is on a postcard.
The applications to the modern day workplace are as plentiful as they are obvious. Examining files lying on someone's desk, or reading emails mistakenly sent to your inbox would be unwarranted invasions of privacy. Nonetheless no right in Judaism is absolute. In order to protect their investment in employers may monitor business communications of their workers. This permission would not extend to personal emails which could only be read in cases of suspected misconduct. As Jewish law does not condone secretly gathering data to be used as a punitive measure employees should be informed of the monitoring policy. Thus the monitoring serves as a warning and deterrent for misuse of privileges instead of a mechanism for disciplinary action. Except in rare circumstances punitive measures (e.g. dismissal) must be taken only after appropriate warnings are issued in advance.
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