For some of my classes I was recently thinking about cultural traits that make Americans distinct, especially in relation to Spanish culture. One characteristic that was brought to mind was the issue of privacy. As Americans, we generally prefer a great degree of privacy in our lives. It seems in fact very American to enjoy personal privacy, especially given that the Constitution guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
I was reminded last weekend that Spain often takes a different view of privacy, especially when it comes to traveling on the roads. On the way to the Picos de Europa we passed a Guardia Civil roadside checkpoint, where the police were literally profiling vehicles, pulling some over and letting others pass. The car in front of us was motioned to pull over for a check, while our car was allowed to pass. I’m not sure why Amanda and I were allowed through; maybe we just looked super touristy and they didn’t want to deal with us.
At any rate, in Spain we have to be prepared with our passports in hand any time we go by car, just in case the Guardia wants to check what we are up to.
In the U.S., random roadside checkpoints without probable cause violate the 4th amendment. And as Americans, we are accustomed to driving from point A to point B without being stopped at random police checkpoints. However, I just read an article by Ron Paul describing how the TSA has just begun to conduct roadside searches on Tennessee highways. The greatest tragedy with such searches, as Dr. Paul mentions, is that people slowly get accustomed to them and assume the government should be doing them for our own good and safety. Such is the case with Spain, where no one, it seems, questions the government’s searches or their right to conduct them.
As I reflect on differences between Spanish and American cultures, I hope Americans will hang on to our understanding of privacy.