In Lewis Carroll's classic children's story, Through the Looking-Glass, Humpty Dumpty says, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
And so it is with the word "privacy" - an elastic and imprecise term that, increasingly, means what its advocates want it to mean. Opponents of free press, free speech, and open government have seized on that word as the rallying cry to undermine First Amendment protections that American journalists have taken for granted for years.
Some of the most opportunistic examples surfaced shortly after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris. Congressman Sonny Bono (R-Calif.) introduced a bill to create a new federal crime of harassment, applying to persistent attempts to photograph or record an individual "for profit." California state Sen. Tom Hayden proposed creating a government-funded "Commission of Inquiry" to examine "the growth, behavior, structure, funding and ethics of the paparazzi and tabloid journalism." His colleague, Sen. Majority Leader Charles Calderon, who last year failed in his attempt to reinstate criminal penalties for libel, introduced a bill to create a "bubble" zone around an unwilling subject of press photographers' attention - and incidentally, to impose civil penalties on news organizations engaged in a "pattern and practice" of publishing defamatory statements. All three claimed that their goal was to protect individuals' privacy.
Two federal judges in high-profile criminal cases decided that jurors have a presumptive right of "privacy" that trumps the First Amendment rights of the press and the public to know who they are and how they carry out their duties. A district court judge in Louisiana ruled that journalists could not interview jurors about their deliberations at the conclusion of the racketeering trial of two former state senators without "a special order" from her. And the judge who will preside over the federal trial of accused "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski assured potential jurors that their names would not be made public. Both said their motive was to protect jurors' privacy.
Meanwhile, in Utah, the state Information Technology Commission pondered proposed legislation that elevates "privacy" interests to new heights. …