The Supreme Court on Freedom of the Press: Decisions and Dissents

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

Chapter Eight
FREEDOM TO REPORT THE NEWS VERSUS THE RIGHT OF PRIVACY

PRIVACY, simply stated, is what judge Thomas Cooley in 1888 called "the right to be let alone." But this simple verbal formula by a noted American jurist does not fit the complexities of life in the latter half of the twentieth century. For a bewildering variety of reasons--including population increases, the activities of the mass media, and the proliferation of electronic gadgets for eavesdropping and spying--it is more and more difficult for Americans to be "let alone." Today, because solitude is often so earnestly sought and so hard to find, privacy is a most timely issue in the law.


CONFLICTING CLAIMS

Privacy is a personal right which the Supreme Court of the United States has found to have constitutional status. But this personal right poses a tortured dilemma for the American courts and for the communications media: a person's right to be let alone often collides with the constitutionally protected public right, freedom of speech and press. When the courts or legislatures expand the protection given privacy, they may limit the media's freedom to report and the public's right to know.

Privacy, although a precious individual right, is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution itself, and its absence from that

____________________
This chapter was prepared by Professor Dwight L. Teeter, University of Wisconsin.

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