American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested Right (Paperback)
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.
About the Author
A graduate of Boston College Law School, Frederick S. Lane is a freelance journalist, lecturer, and expert witness. He has written three previous books on how legal issues affect society, including most recently The Decency Wars. He lives with his family in Burlington, Vermont.
“This is a fascinating read for any American who wants a deeper understanding of one of the most important and contentious issues of our age.”—Geoffrey R. Stone, author of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime
“American Privacy is a deeply informed discussion of the history and present state of a fundamental American value. Frederick Lane’s detailed account of the attacks against our basic right to privacy is chilling.”—Craig Newmark, founder, craigslist
“From its humble beginnings as the right of citizens to not have their houses, papers, and persons searched without warrant, to the complex laws and regulations that we have today, Lane’s book lays out what our privacy is and how easily it can be compromised from all sides.”—Jonathon Howard, Sacramento Book Review
“Frederick Lane’s timely and lucid history lays bare how attacks on privacy by government and industry threaten democracy itself. Essential reading.”—Christopher M. Finan, author of From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act