DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-S047-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 23, 2018, from

2. Public protection of privacy

The concept of privacy as a legal right is of recent origin. In the USA it was introduced into the literature in 1890 by an influential law review article (Warren and Brandeis 1890). It received recognition as a constitutional right in the USA in 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut, which established a privacy right for married couples to use birth control. This privacy right was found to attach to single people also and to protect an individual’s access to abortion as well as to birth control (Eisenstadt v. Baird 1971; Roe v. Wade 1973). The right to privacy has also been recognized in major human rights documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Several competing state interests limit the protection given to privacy. Searches, seizures, involuntary blood and drug tests, and numerous other intrusions are allowed in the name of national security or crime detection. A major limitation upon privacy comes from competing rights, such as the freedom of speech and of the press (see Freedom of speech). In the USA, freedom of speech limits the protection given to ‘public figures’ against intrusions into privacy and limits defamation actions to cases in which the defamer acted ‘maliciously’ (New York Times v. Sullivan 1964). Freedom of the press has been found to override the interests of a rape victim to remain anonymous, even when the victim reasonably fears that the publication of their name would cause them to be targeted for further abuse and violence (Florida Star v. BJF, US 1989).

Computer technology has heightened concern regarding the protection of privacy by radically increasing the possibilities for gaining information about others. Large quantities of information about a person can now be collected, stored, processed and retrieved at relatively low cost. Data protection laws are being developed and refined in many countries to deal with these issues. Computer bulletin boards raise privacy issues that are just beginning to emerge. The widespread use of computers by children has facilitated access to them by adult child molesters who may pose as children and eventually set up a rendezvous.

Citing this article:
Olsen, Frances. Public protection of privacy. Privacy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-S047-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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