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Civil Liberties

Present Political Science paper is meant to discuss several issues concerning the right of privacy. This paper will describe what the right of privacy is, how and under what circumstances the Supreme Court has articulated this right and some of the forms that the right has taken.

The right to privacy is the human’s right to be let alone, in the deficiency of some “reasonable” public interest in the activities, like those of celebrities or members in newsworthy events. Assault of the right to privacy may be the foundation for a lawsuit for damages against the individual violating the right. This right is not mentioned in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has evolved several of the amendments as creating this right. The Fourth Amendment stops the police from searching us or our property without “probable cause” to think that we have committed a crime.

So, the main question is what the right of privacy is and whether we can find it in the Constitution. Generally, the Constitution was made to spell out the limited rights or powers given to the federal government. And it was obviously realized that the government had no powers that weren’t authorized in the Constitution. The original Constitution did not include the Bill of Rights, because the authors initially thought it wasn’t necessary. The ninth and tenth amendments of the Bill of Rights were included to make a completely certainty that there was no mistake about the limited powers the Constitution grants to the federal government. And the right to privacy is in those two amendments. The government has no right to tell human beings what to do except in areas authorized in the Constitution (Harry Browne, 2003).

The right to privacy is a contemporary creation. Privacy has become an important question because government may now interrupt our lives in many various ways that did not exist in the 1790s when the Bill of Rights was written. This is the problem that Madison predicted with having the Bill of Rights: it could not forecast the future extent of government action. Now issues of privacy extend from the existence of electronic records to the privacy of medical records to the capability of the government to utilize the Internet to spy on individual’s computing activities. The government now can accumulate a large amount of data on human beings and can use that information as the base for criminal prosecution. What was a limited issue in the 1790s has grown into the middle of much of the political and legal discussion today.

The “right of privacy” generated controversy and was the focus of the attention in the 1970s. The well-known Watergate scandal concentrated attention for the first time on the harmful effects of complicated electronic technology on privacy. Watergate provided the impetus for the Privacy Act of 1974, restricting the federal government’s right to reveal data about an individual. The law was based on the Fair Information Standards adopted by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, that set that there shall be no individual record system whose subsistence is a top secret; individuals have rights to review systems containing data about them. In addition, in 1978 Congress reinforced the law on unlawful government wiretapping. States have followed the federal government’s lead. Yet, the computerization of business and government since the 1970s has made persistent attacks on the human being’s privacy, most frequently without individual’s knowledge or moreover consent.

As it was mentioned, in American history, “privacy” customarily has meant the right to be left alone. And for the first hundred years, constitutional guarantees concerning privacy sufficiently protected it. Data files were few, and the closeness of the frontier made inspection virtually not possible. Late 19th-century technology began to make inroads into privacy, and drew the attention of future Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis and his colleague Samuel D. Warren. In 1890 their own famous article, “The Right to Privacy,” appeared in the Harvard Law Review, concentrating on the attack of the individual’s “right to be left alone” by the public press. Several years later the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law that forbidden the teaching of language except English on the grounds that it violated individual autonomy. In 1965 the Supreme Court, in the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, set that the Constitution completely defined the right of sexual privacy (Right of privacy: an overview, 2010). And Roe v. Wade case decision, allowing a woman’s right to an abortion, personified the right to personal privacy (The right of privacy, 2011). Though privacy has received increased defense under the law, in all such cases there is a tension between the right of a society to interfere to stop or stop unlawful activity and the right of people to personal autonomy.

The conflict between society and the individual’s right to autonomy has appeared during the case Roe v. Wade, due to the information revolution. The government’s mistreatment of electronic devices to spy on the American citizens during the Nixon administration capture the attention to the misuse of technology and the need for legal restrain. As the result, the Privacy Act of 1974 appeared. This law was meant to authorize the human being by providing him or her with the access on demand to personal records held by a federal agency (Right of privacy: an overview, 2010).

Following this law was the 1976 Supreme Court case, United States v. Miller, in which the judge decided that a person’s bank records belong to the bank, and not to the person, who gives up the right to privacy upon becoming a bank client. This decision meant that people gave up their right of privacy to insurance and credit card organizations and many other companies. Advancements in observation technology and the propagation of computerization have undermined the authority of the Privacy Act of 1974. Developments in medical science have also raised privacy issues. Further interference in individuals’ lives was inevitable. In response to the new threats to individual’s privacy, Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act in 1996, although this act was viewed as temporary. New aspects of the right to privacy continue to draw attention. In the late 1990s the legitimacy of assisted suicide was debated in the political arena.

The right of privacy has evolved to protect the ability of individuals to decide what sort of data about them is collected, and how that information is utilized. Most commercial websites utilize “cookies” to collect data from visitors. In many cases, this data is provided to third parties for marketing aims. Other bodies, like the federal government and financial institutions, also collect personal information. The right of privacy has also developed to defend the freedom of people to select whether or not to perform some acts. This personal autonomy has grown into a “liberty” protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. However, it is barely defined and only protects privacy of family, marriage, motherhood, procreation, and child nurture.

The right to privacy, guaranteed by the Constitution and supported by state and federal law, has required steady watchfulness as it is being identified with the essence of democracy itself. Hence the issue of privacy will not lessen, but will become larger in the future. And that is definitely going to happen soon.


Works cited

1. Right of privacy: an overview. Cornell University Law School. August 19, 2010. Web. 6 December 2011.
2. Harry Browne. Does the Constitution Contain a Right to Privacy? May 9, 2003. Web. 6 December 2011.
3. The right of privacy. Exploring constitutional conflicts. 2011. Web. 6 December 2011.