Synopses & Reviews
As America reacts to Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA surveillance, American Privacy offers a timely look at our national experience with the right to privacy.
“The history of America is the history of the right to privacy,” writes Frederick S. Lane in this vivid and penetrating exploration of our most hotly debated constitutional right. From Governor William Bradford opening colonists’ mail bound for England, to President George W. Bush’s expansive domestic wiretapping, the motivations behind government surveillance have changed little despite rapid advances in communications technology. Yet all too often, American citizens have been their own worst enemies when it comes to protecting privacy, compliantly forgoing civil liberties in extreme times of war as well as for everyday consumer conveniences. Each of us now contributes to an ever-evolving electronic dossier of online shopping sprees, photo albums, health records, and political contributions, accessible to almost anyone who cares to look. In a digitized world where data lives forever, Lane urges us to consider whether privacy is even a possibility. How did we arrive at this breaking point?
American Privacy traces the lineage of cultural norms and legal mandates that have swirled around the Fourth Amendment since its adoption. In 1873, the introduction of postcards split American opinion of public propriety. Over a century later, Twitter takes its place on the spectrum of human connection. Between these two nodes, Anthony Comstock waged a moral crusade against obscene literature, George Orwell penned 1984, Joseph McCarthy hunted Communists and “perverts,” President Richard Nixon surveilled himself right out of office, and the Supreme Court of the United States issued its most influential legal opinions concerning the right to privacy to date. Captured here, these historic snapshots add up to a lively narration of privacy’s champions and challengers.
Legally, technologically, and historically grounded, American Privacy concludes with a call for Congress to recognize how innovation and infringement go hand-in-hand, and a challenge to citizens to protect privacy before it is lost completely.
An examination of privacy and the evolution of communication, from broken sealing wax to high-tech wiretapping
A sweeping story of the right to privacy as it sped along colonial postal routes, telegraph wires, and even today’s fiber-optic cables, American Privacy traces the lineage of cultural norms and legal mandates that have swirled around the Fourth Amendment since its adoption. Legally, technologically, and historically grounded, Frederick Lane’s book presents a vivid and penetrating exploration that, in the words of people’s historian Howard Zinn, “challenges us to defend our most basic rights.”
About the Author
A graduate of Amherst College and Boston College Law School, Frederick S. Lane is an author, attorney, expert witness, and lecturer who has written four previous books on how legal issues affect society. He lives with his family in Burlington, Vermont.
Table of Contents
1 The Declaration of Privacy
2 Postal Politics, Purity, and Privacy
3 Population, Punch Cards, and Privacy
4 Privacy in State Courts and Legislatures
5 No More Gentlemen: The Rise of Governmental Espionage
6 The Peeping Toms of Public Life
7 The Great Red Threats to Privacy: Credit Cards and Communism
8 Privacy’s Golden Hour: The Warren Court
9 “Toward Freedom from Fear”: The Privacy versus Security Debate Intensifies
10 The Phantom Delete Key: The Incredible Durability of Data
11 No PC Is an Island: The Rise of Online Communities
12 Electronic Exhibitionism and Voyeurism: Privacy in a Webbed World
Conclusion: The Perilous State of Privacy