Many years ago Judge Louis D. Brandeis defined the right to privacy as "the right to be let alone." While his summation was "eloquent in its simplicity," the authors of this useful and alarming survey note that legally "it offers no guidance at all." Indeed, because privacy is not mentioned in the Constitution, the extent to which we have a right to be let alone is open to a variety of interpretations. While a welter of state and federal statutes and judicial decisions do recognize some kinds of personal privacy as protected behavior, many other elements of our lives are not protected at all. A growing number of organizations and authorities, from our employers to the federal government, are increasingly and insistently invading our private lives and arguing that they have a right or obligation to do so. In response, more and more individuals are suing.
The Right to Privacy is a report from the battlefront. The authors, both attorneys, use recent cases and court rulings to evaluate the current state of privacy, to describe where our rights end. They consider such areas as privacy and law enforcement (under what circumstances, for instance, do police have the right to conduct a strip search?), privacy and the self (the question of privacy is, as they remind us, at the heart of the legal battles over abortion rights), privacy versus the press's right to know (how much, and under what circumstances, can the press reveal about a private individual?) and personal privacy and employers (under what circumstances can an employer be justified in asking, say, whether or not we believe in God, or what our sexual orientation is?). The authors' description of cases and rulings are models of clarity, often quite gripping. The conclusion that emerges from their careful exploration is that we are witnessing a "general erosion of privacy." Given that fact, the book is a helpful, even necessary, guide to the extent to which we can expect to be let alone, and a warning about the ways in which our right to privacy is almost constantly under assault.
Coauthors of In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, Alderman and Kennedy here present a pithy and practical casebook on our shrinking right to privacy. The Fourth Amendment, protecting against unreasonable seizures, does not necessarily prevent an arrested person from being strip-searched, and the authors consider a welter of legal and ethical dilemmas involving the clashing interests of people who wish to be left alone and employers, police and the press, whose jobs may make them intrusive. The use of metal detectors and drug tests in schools and workplaces, women's right to abortion and contraception, people suing to squelch reporting by the media, patients' right to refuse further medical treatment or to undergo assisted suicide, and claims against voyeurs are among the issues and conflicts discussed. Also examined are new privacy conflicts arising in the workplace as employers, facing rising health insurance costs and increased liability for employees' actions, demand-and often obtain-more information about their workers.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once described privacy as a right older than the Bill of Rights. The evolution in the 20th century of a recognized "right of privacy" represents spectacular growth in the areas of tort and constitutional law. Attorneys Alderman and Kennedy expand on a topic only briefly treated in their In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action (LJ 1/91). As their preface notes, privacy, although not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, is held by most people to be a basic and fundamental right and a right that is under siege today. Using a series of well-selected court cases, the authors compile a catalog of horrors that represent attacks on privacy, ranging from two-way mirrors in department store dressing rooms and law enforcement "strip" searches to lifestyle enforcement, controversies over contraception and abortion, and right-to-die cases. McLean (journalism, Western Illinois Univ.) has a somewhat familiar purpose: not only to show that Americans view privacy as a fundamental right but to explain why we attach such importance to the concept. McLean all too briefly summarizes the history and evolution of privacy and outlines some of the ways privacy is violated. For many reasons, the Alderman and Kennedy book will be preferred by most readers; by using concrete illustrations, it better defines the notions of privacy under attack in specific instances. The McLean book merely describes in summary fashion the same ideas. Alderman and Kennedy write in a highly readable style and chronicle the vigilance necessary to protect a cherished right; McLean writes in the fashion of the academy. The Right to Privacy is strongly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/95.]Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City
School Library Journal
YA-Stories of individuals who have gone to court to protect their privacy rights are divided into six legally recognized interests. Extensive notes provide legal citations and, where appropriate, additional commentary. Students may be surprised by the limits of privacy rights, the variations in the law from state to state, and the differences in verdicts among seemingly similar cases. Readers may well be riveted to such narrations as that in Cooper v. Anderson (17-year-old Jeff Cooper's friends videotaped him having sex with Debbie Anderson, 19, without Anderson's knowledge or approval). Routine strip searches of women accused of such minor offenses as traffic tickets, right-to-die decisions, ownership of frozen embryos, drug interdiction, televised death, a school administrator's search of a student's pocketbook, and a forced Cesarean section performed on a terminally ill patient against the wishes of her family are all of likely interest to older students. Teachers may effectively choose excerpts to illustrate or elicit discussions. Students may find topics for further research, seek to clarify or advance their legal understanding, or just dip in for the stories.Barbara Hawkins, Oakton High School, Fairfax, VA