Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy

The surprising story of the fitful development of the right to privacy—and its battle against the public’s right to know—across American history.

The battle between an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know has been fought for centuries. The founders demanded privacy for all the wrong press-quashing reasons. Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis famously promoted First Amendment freedoms but argued strongly for privacy too; and presidents from Thomas Jefferson through Donald Trump confidently hid behind privacy despite intense public interest in their lives. The clash between privacy rights and press rights has provoked constitutional crises (tapes and tax returns) and the arrests of journalists who published the truth about public officials.