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Title: The Right to Privacy
Authors: Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy
Publisher: Vintage
Copyright: 1997
ISBN: 0-679-74434- 7
Pages: 413
Price: $14.00
Rating: 81% (89%)
Few readers have the time or inclination to wade through mountains of case law to determine the state of play on any legal subject, let alone one as wide-ranging as privacy. Alderman and Kennedy have taken the time to assemble an impressive collection of cases that touches on all aspects of privacy law, though the breadth of their focus means that Internet-specific cases receive comparatively little attention. If I were reviewing The Right to Privacy for a general publication I would give the book an 89% rating.

The word “privacy” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution, though a number of Supreme Court opinions have held that the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments offer some constitutional backing for a right “to” (as opposed to an enumerated right “of”) privacy. American common law, however, recognizes several privacy-related causes of action (“torts”). In a 1960 California Law Review article, William Prosser proposed four torts as bases for alleging an invasion of privacy:

  • Intrusion upon an individual’s seclusion, solitude, or private affairs
  • Public disclosure of embarassing private facts
  • Publicity placing an individual in a false light
  • Appropriation of an individual’s likeness for advantage

Rather than retain Prosser’s four categories, the authors cover cases according to the parties involved in the dispute and note which torts are involved on a case-by-case basis. Sections include privacy versus law enforcement, voyeurs, the press, in the workplace, of personal information, and in personal choice issues (e.g., abortion). Alderman and Kennedy’s arrangement makes much more sense for the lay reader than a compilation grouped by tort; unfortunately, it also highlights privacy’s inherently adversarial nature. When courts balance rights, such as privacy versus the media’s First Amendment right to seek and print news, there are winners and losers. Privacy’s vague, “implied” status as a constitutional concept often means it is interpreted (and protected) inconsistently. For example, following the release of Supreme Court Justice nominee Robert Bork’s videotape rental records, Congress passed a law making disclosing anyone’s rental habits a crime. Unfortunately, in most cases individuals’ medical records are not afforded the same protection.

The Right to Privacy has sold incredibly well, no doubt due to the subject matter, thoroughness of coverage, and the authors’ previous success with In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action. While there isn’t much original scholarship in the book, Alderman and Kennedy have put together a worthwhile survey of privacy law of interest to non-lawyers. Hopefully any future editions of the book will examine the Internet’s impact on privacy in more detail.

Curtis D. Frye (  is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.