The Right to Privacy

by Sr. Staff Writer, Leonard Wheeler, former NFL player

The right of privacy for individuals has long been challenged in American history, especially since there is no specific amendment in the U.S. Constitution or Bill of Rights outlining the particulars as to what privacy is or as to what is clearly prearranged and specified for U.S. citizens.  The first agreeable particular is the written expression from the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (United States Declaration of Independence, 1776)

Herein began the controversy since the word privacy did not occur.  Citizens have fought over privacies with their land, their communications and over their personal property.  The courts have found answers in Amendments One through Eight and in the Fourteenth Amendment for Due Process.  So it would seem that every issue of privacy ruled upon by the courts thusly becomes a personal issue since the ruling has an affect on an individual’s life and their quest for liberty: however, once person’s privacy may be an invasion of another’s or a contradiction to public policy or safety.  The Patriot Act is one such law enacted by Congress that potentially reaches to impinge on the privacy of every citizen, at least for those who affectively care or have concerns; for countless others are without a noticeable disturbance in their daily lives either due to apathy or by lack of noticeable change.  This explains the intimacy created by the Patriot Act, now Public Law 107 – 56 (Library of Congress, Thomas 2010).  Many U.S. citizens feel very strongly that the Patriot Act is a violation of their right to privacy.

The true title of the Patriot Act says a lot about its potential to interfere with privacy: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 (Bill Summary and Status, Library of Congress, Thomas 2010) The law seeks to draw a line between the interests of the individual versus the safeguarding of society.  By using “electronic intercept” the government is able to obstruct or deter acts of terrorism, hopefully before they occur.    The initial act (it was reaffirmed on March 10, 2006) gave the government broad investigative authority after the September 11, 2001 terrorism act destroying the Twin Towers and killing over 2,800 people.  The act provides protection for cooperation and compliance with the government and provided the power to sanction individuals and corporations who did not cooperate.  (PBS News Hour, 2010)

In May 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (a court with its own jurisdiction) ruled against the Justice Department’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act stating that the act reached beyond the concerns for public safety and into concerns of violation of privacy for citizens.  In November 2002, a federal appeals court overturned the lower courts ruling and the Patriot Act, along with its derivative acts moved toward public law in the United States.  The courts ruled that the expanded powers of the Patriot Act did not overreach or violate the U.S. Constitution.

Unfortunately the scope of protecting the public lies in the values of the protectors.  The objective is to protect society from bad actors and criminals of the worst type known in modern days, however there have been citizens caught in the crossfire for the good of the public.  Airline searches are an example.  Many people have been violated by boarding searches.  In general most of society takes a John Rawls political approach to determine that reasonable persons want to be protected on an aircraft and would rather not be blown up in an act of terrorism.  Rawls introduced an approach to balance justice with basic rights.  This approach is politically affective in the United States and is balanced by a three tiered federal court system to overhear the complaints of injustice.  Those politicians and private persons who wish to eliminate the Patriot Act in total should first apply the principles of ethics and A Theory of Justice by John Rawls. (John Rawls, 1998)  Rawls states a philosophy for a compromise of liberty and equality sometimes referred to as the “Justice of Fairness.” (Ibid)

The balance of liberty and equality is best handled by the court system.  If every person or decision maker within the government or within society were to have a character with a core desire for “goodness” (Aristotle) then there might be a better solution handled by humans and their opinions.   However, the concept for determining what is correct for the rule of the “right to privacy” requires drawing a line.  To use a Rawls approach, one must be educated and aware to determine the balance of justice and liberty with an attitude of determining not exactly what the balance “is” in case law, tort law and criminal law, but to determine where the boundaries and scope of justice and liberty lie for mankind’s safety and public policy as a whole.

United States Declaration of Independence Retrieved From

Library of Congress, Thomas 2010, Retrieved from

PBS News Hour Retrieved From Domestic Terrorism and the Home Front War, 2010,

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Belknap Press of Harvird University Press, 1998