The “Right to Privacy”: The Greatest American value ever?

image I’ve gotten a lot of questions about America’s right to privacy considering my concerns over certain groups ability to collect information about myself without my knowledge.  I don’t portend to be a Constitutional scholar but I know what I’ve read by people that do know what their talking about legally and I’ve found that this summary seems to do the best job when trying to ‘net out’ what our country’s right to privacy means to citizens:

While the right to privacy is firmly rooted in the ethical tenets of the library profession, it is also an intrinsic American value, guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Although the Constitution does not explicitly reference the word "privacy," the Supreme Court has nonetheless inferred a right to privacy from various portions of the Bill of Rights and the common law.

The most obvious protection of privacy in the Bill of Rights is the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals in their persons, homes, papers, and effects from "unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government. The First Amendment, which protects freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly, also implicitly safeguards the right to privacy in the form of freedom of thought and intellect. As eloquently articulated by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in his famous dissent in Olmstead v. United States: "The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness . . . They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, THE RIGHT TO BE LET ALONE – the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men."

The first Supreme Court decision to fully articulate the right to privacy was Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that the right to privacy included the right for married couples to use contraceptives. In Griswold, Justice Douglas, writing for the Court, famously explained that the guarantees in the Bill of Rights have "penumbras," or somewhat hazy, but obviously present, extensions, which must be read as creating "zones of privacy, such as the First Amendment right of association, the Third Amendment prohibition against quartering soldiers in a home, the Fourth Amendment right to be secure in one’s person, house, papers and effects, the Fifth Amendment right to not surrender anything to one’s detriment, and the Ninth Amendment right to not deny or disparage any right retained by the people."

In recent years, several federal courts have recognized the right to privacy in public libraries. Specifically, these courts found that the First Amendment protects the right to receive information in a publicly funded library. However, the professional code of librarians provides a much broader promise of privacy than is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. Consequently, constitutional limitations on the right to privacy are often at odds with the librarianship principles of privacy and confidentiality.

(created by Leslie Harris & Associates of in conjunction with American Library Association Office of Information Technology Policy staff For more information as well as pointers to source references, refer to the original document at

Other references:

Organization actively protecting your Right to Privacy:

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