Disclaimer*: the purpose of this piece is to clarify my thoughts on the issue of the possible conflict between the underlying assumptions of libertarian ideals and those of privacy advocacy. As such, it may - and probably will - end up being an equivocating and undeveloped ramble.
Libertarianism, while favoring limited government oversight, is not synonymous with anarchism. Humans can certainly exhibit behavior that should be suppressed by societal controls. However, these controls need not always be legal; social norms and the development of the highest level of conscience, not partaking in a transgression because one feels that it is morally/ethically wrong, can serve as well, if not better, than law.
I often apply this theorem to the debate over how to stop the sharing of copyrighted material --movies, music, etc. In my opinion, this is stealing, but I disagree with the current methods of enforcement. I suggest that the best way to encourage people not to steal music is to get them to internalize that this is wrong - the same reason that we do not steal from brick-and-mortar stores.
When I present this idea (usually in relation to other libertarian ideals) to someone of an opposing view, a person of a more authoritarian stance, our debate usually funnels philosophically to our underlying assumptions: optimism that humans are inherently good and will make the right decision given enough time (mine) vs. humans are avaricious creatures that require a high degree of oversight (authoritarian view). Obviously, this is an oversimplification of a complex, multifaceted argument into a one-dimensional spectrum, but I think that the dichotomy here is fairly accurate.
In stark contrast, while I generally preach my less-government ethos, I feel that privacy laws are an important way that government protects us from our own worst instincts. Bodies of law such as HIPAA (protection of medical data) and FERPA (protection of academic records) serve an important purpose. I feel that new, similar protections should be enacted and enforced to stop the sale and aggregation of personal data, without a customer's explicit consent, for advertisement purposes. (I will expound on this sometime if anyone is interested or if the mood strikes, whichever comes first.) The underlying assumption here is that business and government will be irresponsible with their use of personal information, and that they need to be regulated.
So, then, do we have two underlying assumptions in seeming conflict: optimism of the strength of the human conscience vs. pessimism of our ability to do the right thing without oversight. How can one be both a libertarian and a privacy advocate? Is this a false dichotomy or just the inherent conflict in non-partisan thinking -- i.e. being a moderate?
*I may have been influenced to write a moderately self-deprecating intro to this after reading Borges' introduction(s) to his A Universal History of Iniquity.