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Cartoon History of Privacy - TeachPrivacy Privacy Awareness Training

For Data Privacy Day, here’s a cartoon about the history of privacy.  A constant stream of articles and books proclaim that privacy is dead. But people have been saying that privacy is dead for quite some time. This is either the longest death scene in history, or privacy isn’t dying.

Back in 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis wrote a law review article about privacy in the Harvard Law review. They were worried about new technology – the camera. In the late 1800s, cameras had become cheap and small, and the authors worried that these cameras would threaten privacy.  Warren and Brandeis proposed ways that the law could better protect privacy.  The law responded.  Many courts and legislatures created laws to address the problems that Warren and Brandeis complained about.

It didn’t take long after the invention of the telephone for wiretapping to emerge. There were considerable privacy concerns about using phones.  Many states passed laws criminalizing wiretapping.  In 1928, a U.S. Supreme Court case (Olmstead v. United States) held that wiretapping didn’t require a search warrant under the 4th Amendment. This case sparked an outcry.  Eventually, in 1967, the Supreme Court reversed Olmstead and held that wiretapping requires a search warrant. A year later, Congress passed a law strictly regulating wiretapping.

The computer posed substantial privacy concerns, prompting considerable discussion in the 1960s and 1970s.  Laws to protect privacy began to be passed in the U.S. and around the world.

The law is slow to keep pace with technology, but it is trying. Reports of privacy’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Related Posts

The Undying Death of Privacy
(collecting articles, books, and magazines from years past proclaiming the death of privacy)

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy and data security training. He also posts at his blog at LinkedIn, which has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the annual Privacy + Security Forum events.

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