Daniel Solove, associate professor at GW Law, has written a very interesting piece on information privacy, entitled “A brief history of information privacy law”.
The law had long protected one’s home. The maxim that the home is one’s castle appeared as early as 1499. More well-known is a judicial pronouncement in Semayne’s Case in 1604 that “the house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress.” According to William Blackstone, the law has “so particular and tender a regard to the immunity of a man’s house that it stiles it his castle, and will never suffer it to be violated with impunity.”
At the time of the Revolutionary War, the central privacy issue was freedom from government intrusion. The Founders detested the use of general warrants and writs of assistance. Writs of assistance authorized “sweeping searches and seizures without any evidentiary basis” and general warrants “resulted in ‘ransacking’ and seizure of the personal papers of political dissenters, authors, and printers of seditious libel.” As Patrick Henry declared: “They may, unless the general government be restrained by a bill of rights, or some similar restrictions, go into your cellars and rooms, and search, ransack, and measure, everything you eat, drink, and wear. They ought to be restrained within proper bounds.”
For Americans, it provides a good background as to how some of the recent degradation of our civil liberties fit into the framework of our country’s history. And for my overseas blog readers, it will elucidate as to why us Americans are so nutty about privacy.
So keep fighting. Wiretapping, kicking down doors and the like just can’t be permitted to happen because there’s a precious legacy of freedoms wrung by the blood of a lot of good people, going back many centuries.