Right to Privacy
US law gives its citizens two distinct rights to privacy:
- The right to privacy without government interference
- The right to privacy of personal information The right to privacy is protected by a number of laws, including the Constitution. We will discuss each of these rights and how they are protected by the law in this article.
The Right to Privacy Without Government Interference
The Constitution stops the government and its agencies (like law enforcement) from interfering in its citizens’ right to privacy. This includes privacies like:
- The right to privacy of beliefs
- The right to use of their own home without it being commandeered to house soldiers
- Protection against unlawful and unreasonable searches
- Privacy of personal information
- The rights of one group of people cannot supersede the rights of others
It is believed that people have a right to personal autonomy in matters that do not endanger the public or violate the rights of others. Because the states and even local counties have jurisdiction to make laws, the Constitution also states that no jurisdiction can make a law that revokes or violates the privileges and immunities that federal law grants US citizens. For example, a right to privacy is the right to make reproductive decisions, including abortion. No state can implement a law that makes it completely illegal for a woman to seek an abortion or makes it completely illegal in practice. States can regulate abortion practices and interpret fetus viability in their laws, but they cannot completely remove the right to seek an abortion.
The right to privacy and personal autonomy has led to many state laws being overturned by the Supreme Court because they violated the right to personal autonomy. Here are some notable cases:
- Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could not ban the use of contraception in marriage because married couples had a right to privacy in reproductive decisions.
- Stanley v. Georgia In 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that people could read and consume pornography in the privacy of their own homes. The court stated that the state trying to tell someone how they may entertain themselves is a violation of the right to privacy and personal autonomy.
- Roe v. Wade In 1972, the Supreme Court ruled that people had a right to privacy in reproductive decisions, including the decision to abort a fetus.
- Lawrence v. Texas In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled that the state could not make sodomy illegal if it were performed in peoples’ own homes.
The government can only create laws that would violate the right to privacy if it is a matter of public safety. For example, there are laws that require people to wear seatbelts in cars and to have smoke alarms in their houses. While these are violations of personal autonomy, they exist to protect the public from harm.
The Right to Privacy of Personal Information
American citizens also have a right to privacy of their personal information from public scrutiny or commercial use. This means that businesses or agencies that need to collect personal information have a duty to keep it private. There are some laws that regulate this right to privacy for sensitive information, like health records (HIPAA) or government records (The Privacy Act of 1974). In addition, companies that collect any information from customers must provide a privacy statement to allow customers to know how their information may be used (The Financial Monetization Act of 1999). This allows customers to determine if the information they provide will be sold to third parties for profit.
People may also request to view the information government agencies or credit reporting agencies hold for them and ask for information to be corrected if it is false. This allows people the right to privacy to not have false information affect important aspects of their life.
In addition to the right to privacy that stops personal information from being sold to third parties, a company cannot use someone’s image for commercial purposes without permission. This allows a right to privacy from names or images being associated with a product that the person does not endorse. If a company violates this right to privacy, the victim can file a lawsuit for misappropriation. If a company wants to use someone’s image or name for commercial purposes, there will need to be some contract in place granting permission.
Social media websites and internet browsers are also required to help users protect their right to privacy by providing options for privacy settings. This allows people to choose what information they want to be shared with friends and what they want to be shared with the general public. Because people use social media to share sensitive information, they have the right to privacy to control who can see that sensitive information. The exception is children under 13, who are not deemed old enough to understand their right to privacy. Any websites that target children of that age group, must have privacy policies that require parental approval.