Privacy Under Scrutiny
The Problem of Defining Privacy
When polled, many Americans think their right to privacy is somehow a Constitutional right. But the concept of privacy as a legal right in the United States was first put forward in 1890 by Boston attorney Samuel Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Their now famous and frequently cited article "The Right to Privacy," published in the Harvard Law Review, introduced the concepts of a "right to be left alone" and that an individual should be allowed to maintain his or her own comfortable distance from society.
During the years, privacy has taken on different connotations and even definitions depending on what's happening in American society and culture. For example, during World War II, Americans were more willing to give up some rights to their privacy in order to gain greater security. But in the 1970s, when Americans were rebelling against established norms, privacy protection and consumer rights became paramount. The rapid rise of the Internet has only increased consumers' interest in privacy.
Today's experts and scholars define privacy in myriad ways. Curtis Frye, author of the book "Privacy-Enhanced Business: Adapting to the Online Environment," describes the difficulty in defining privacy. "The social distance citizens keep from strangers, acquaintances, friends, business associates, companies and the government all depend on the context of the interaction, the familiarity with the individual or organization in question, and the value a person places on privacy in each of those situations," he writes.
Thus, Frye argues, the problem with defining privacy is that the concept means different things to different people at different times.
To make matters more problematic, other experts separate privacy issues, noting that identity theft and credit card fraud actually are crime problems unrelated to legitimate uses of information, while telemarketing and unsolicited e-mail marketing (spam) are better characterized as annoyances and inconveniences. To be sure, the issues are complex and relative.