Privacy: Olmstead V. United States

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Sun Tzu wrote in the Art of War: “Enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements .” Even as far back as the ancient Chinese dynasties, spying has been ubiquitous throughout history. Every powerful institution has used its leverages to learn private information sub rosa. Throughout history, this behavior was viewed as standard and acceptable. Only recently (recent in historical context) has the perception of privacy as a basic human right emerged. In the modern era, spying has taken on complications. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence,…show more content…
United States. In this case, a man was prosecuted for illegal alcohol sales using evidence obtained by wiretapping a phone in his home. In the ruling of this case, the Supreme Court decided that since no physical home intrusion was committed, the question of telephone wiretapping is not one that is within the scope of the Fourth Amendment’s protection . Chief Justice Taft said in the opinion, “The amendment itself shows that the search is to be of material things—the person, the house, his papers or his effects… Since the evidence was a conversation and no entry was made into Olmstead’s home, there was therefore no violation of his rights against unreasonable search and seizure6.” The case was 5-4, and in one of the dissenting opinions, Justice Brandeis offered a progressive interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and an uncannily accurate prediction of the future: “The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wire-tapping… [The government] will be enabled to expose a jury to the most intimate occurrences of the home .” Justice Brandeis later went on to write an article called “The Right to Privacy” in which he asserted that “the right to be let alone” was integral to the American citizen’s quality of life . The argument that Brandeis makes against technological surveillance of citizens follows a certain line of logic: “property” encompasses both physical and intangible possessions, in the same way that other protections are not physical but real all the same, such as protection from assault or nuisance6. It is unlikely that Justice Brandeis could envision a world entirely reliant on an intangible network of information such as the Internet, but his ideas can still be used today to protect Americans’ privacy in the digital

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