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.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of History eBook: American Privacy|
|Release Date: 11-01-2009|
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|Publisher: Beacon Press|
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The headline for the lead story in the New York Times on December 16, 2005, was stunning in its starkness and simplicity: “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers without Courts.”
Underneath the column-spanning banner was a massive 3,300- word story, written by veteran reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, describing in detail a decision by President George W. Bush to authorize the National Security Agency (NSA) to listen to the conversations of American citizens and others inside the United States without first seeking court permission to do so. According to the Times story, “under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible ‘dirty numbers’ linked to Al Qaeda.”
Following the 9/11 attacks, the NSA intensified its tracking of calls and e-mails to and from known Al Qaeda figures, aided in large part by Central Intelligence Agency seizure of terrorists’ cell phones and computers in the Middle East. With President Bush’s executive order in hand, the NSA for the first time began also tracking domestic phone calls and e-mails of people, including U.S. citizens, suspected of having links to Al Qaeda, regardless of how remote those links might be.
Based on interviews with unnamed former and current members of the administration, the Times reported that at any given moment, the NSA was monitoring the communications of up to five hundred Americans. Since the names on the NSA ...