American Privacy: The 400-Year History of Our Most Contested by Frederick S. Lane

By Frederick S. Lane

A sweeping tale of the suitable to privateness because it sped alongside colonial postal routes, telegraph wires, and today’s fiber-optic cables on a collision path with presidents and programmers, librarians and letter-writers.

''The historical past of the USA is the heritage of the proper to privacy,'' writes Frederick S. Lane during this shiny and penetrating exploration of our such a lot hotly debated constitutional correct. From Governor William Bradford beginning colonists’ mail certain for England, to President George W. Bush’s expansive household wiretapping, the motivations at the back of executive surveillance have replaced little regardless of swift advances in communications expertise. but all too usually, americans were their very own worst enemies in terms of maintaining privateness, compliantly forgoing civil liberties in severe occasions of warfare in addition to for daily customer conveniences. each one people now contributes to an ever-evolving digital file of on-line procuring sprees, picture albums, future health documents, and political contributions, available to nearly a person who cares to seem. In a digitized international the place facts lives ceaselessly, Lane urges us to contemplate even if privateness is even plausible. How did we arrive at this brink?

American Privacy strains the lineage of cultural norms and felony mandates that experience swirled round the Fourth modification due to the fact its adoption. In 1873, the creation of postcards break up American opinion of public propriety. Over a century later, Twitter takes its position at the spectrum of human connection. among those nodes, Anthony Comstock waged an ethical campaign opposed to obscene literature, George Orwell penned 1984, Joseph McCarthy hunted Communists and ''perverts,'' President Richard Nixon surveilled himself correct out of workplace, and the best courtroom of the us issued its such a lot influential felony evaluations about the correct to privateness to this point. Captured the following, those historical snapshots upload as much as a full of life narration of privacy’s champions and challengers.

Legally, technologically, and traditionally grounded, American Privacy concludes with a decision for Congress to acknowledge how innovation and infringement cross hand-in-hand, and a problem to electorate to guard privateness ahead of it really is misplaced thoroughly.

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This point was driven home repeatedly during the Civil War, when both sides engaged in extensive wiretapping of telegraph lines and routinely sent false messages to disrupt troop movements and sow confusion. The American military even set up a parallel telegraph system in an effort to secure its communications, and telegrams became such an integral part of the conduct of the war that President Lincoln often spent hours or even days in the Army Telegraph Office in Washington. Lincoln’s visits and complete fascination with the telegraph were later chronicled by the office’s manager, David Homer Bates, in a lengthy book, Lincoln in the Telegraph Office (1907).

The criticisms of epistolary curmudgeons notwithstanding, Americans demonstrated remarkable enthusiasm for the postcard. S. Post Office offered concrete evidence of just how popular postcards had become: for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1908, its postal carriers delivered 677,777,798 postcards—at a time when the entire population of the United States was less than 90 million. The postcard phenomenon convincingly demonstrated that from the start, Americans were willing to give up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for the fun and convenience of using the cards.

Similarly, there was no visible public outcry over the peremptory seizure and silencing of two New York newspapers and a major telegraph company in May 1864 for their role in the publication of a proclamation falsely attributed to President Lincoln. The seeming public indifference to the invasions of telegram privacy was due largely to the deference typically given to the government in time of war. There is a general consensus that when an armed conflict is occurring, the niceties of constitutional law are not necessarily observed.

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