THE FANTASTIC advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a greater danger to the privacy of the individual.
Earl Warren, Chief Justice
U.S. Supreme Court (1953-1969)
Samuel Warren was a Massachusetts attorney who partnered with his friend and law school classmate to form their own law firm in Boston. Warren graduated second in his class from Harvard Law School in 1877.
His classmate, friend and partner, Louis Dembitz Brandeis finished first.
Brandeis and Warren, 34 and 38 years respectively, authored their renowned essay on The Right to Privacy in 1890. Still relevant and oft quoted today, The Right to Privacy is an enduring legal masterpiece.
President Woodrow Wilson appointed Louis Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916. Noted for his decisions in support of privacy Justice Brandeis (1916-1939) is listed among the court's greatest justices.
By 1905 states began to recognize a right to privacy often citing the Brandeis-Warren essay when doing so.
In 1890 they wrote, Recent inventions … call attention to the next step which must be taken for the protection of the person, and for securing to the individual … the right ‘to be let alone'… numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.
They continue, Solitude and privacy have become more essential to the individual; but modern enterprise and invention have, through invasions upon his privacy, subjected him to mental pain and distress, far greater than could be inflicted by mere bodily injury.
The common law secures to each individual the right of determining to what extent his thoughts, sentiments, and emotions shall be communicated to others. The same protection is accorded to a casual letter or an entry in a diary. In every case the individual is entitled to decide whether that which is his shall be given to the public.
This right is wholly independent of the material on which, the thought, sentiment, or emotions is expressed. It may exist independently of any corporeal being, as in words spoken.
Alexander Graham Bell's telephone patent was issued in 1876.
An inherent right to privacy had become visible and with it the recognition that violating a person's privacy, their spirit, can be more injurious than physical assault. The author Katharine Gerould (1879-1944) wrote, All violations of essential privacy are brutalizing.
Finally, in 1967 the Supreme Court ruled 7-1 in Katz v. US, that electronic surveillance was a violation the 4th Amendment and should only be conducted upon approval of authorized prosecutors, demonstrating probable cause, and with a search warrant signed by a judge.
So too in Pennsylvania is your right to privacy so sacred that even law enforcement must clear several hurdles before electronically penetrating it.
In various instances it requires prior approval of the designated prosecutor, demonstrating probable cause, a court order signed by a judge and a judicial finding that the technique is necessary and that more traditional, less intrusive techniques would fail. So thoroughly cloaked in the law and constitution are you.
All of this makes the latest allegations of corruption in the county controller's office so disgusting.
Luzerne County's Barney Fife (Walter Griffith) sitting in the controller's office allegedly may have recorded conversations in violation of the law. Perhaps he thought the United States Attorney's office was in need of his expertise.
No doubt the pros had completed most of their due diligence before receiving Barney's documents and the flash drive allegedly containing Barney's illegally obtained play list.
Would the Attorney General's office have conducted any electronic surveillance during it's six-month investigation that surfaced on Tuesday?
If so, the AG's office would have had to go before a judge and seek permission, justifying its reasons and explain why other more traditional, less intrusive techniques would fail.
It would need to clear those hurdles because even Barney has The Right to Privacy. Louis Brandeis said so.
Kevin Blaum's column about government, politics and life is published each Sunday in The Times Leader.