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On Privacy by Jill Priluck

In government, history, information, law, North America, politics, privacy, technology on July 3, 2013 at 18:09

From: On Privacy by Jill Priluck, N + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

No one law or right governs privacy in the United States. The word privacy doesn’t appear in the Constitution, and some skeptics even refer to it as a “so-called” right. But there is a basis for American privacy law, and a good place to start is the fourth item in the Bill of Rights, now known as the Fourth Amendment. “The right of the people,” the Fourth Amendment states, “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

This right dates to the struggle against government abuse in the colonial era, when it was common practice for British officials to search homes and shops for smuggled goods. In 1761, Boston merchants questioned the legality of this practice—and the vague permits, or writs, that authorized it—arguing that it violated the colonists’ “natural” rights. So fierce was the sentiment against these searches that when Advocate General and Cape Cod native James Otis was ordered by his superiors to defend them, he resigned and represented the Boston merchants for free. Otis called the writs “a power that places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer.” A man’s home was “his castle,” he argued, “and whilst he is quiet, he is well guarded as a prince in his castle.” Otis lost the case, and the British magistrate deemed the writs legal, but Otis won a reputation as a patriot. Among the spectators who saw his argument was a 25-year-old John Adams, later the architect of the Fourth Amendment.

In the centuries since, American privacy law has developed on the basis of much more than the Fourth Amendment, and has gone on to cover reproductive and sexual rights and even the distribution of commercial media, such as newspaper photographs and advertisements. At the same time, the concept of Fourth Amendment “privacy” has gradually expanded. The definition of “home”—and “papers and effects”—has broadened as courts have defined the reasonableness of searches and seizures, the meaning of “probable cause,” and what constitutes a “search” or “seizure” in the first place.

Read the article

Reposted with permission from: N + 1

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