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

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

Amy Gajda. Viking, $30 (400p) ISBN 978-1-984880-74-1

This probing legal history documents the antagonism in American jurisprudence between freedom of the press and the right to keep information private. Journalist and Tulane law professor Gajda (The First Amendment Bubble) surveys landmarks in the parsing of First Amendment and privacy rights by the courts, which long held that journalists could be sued or jailed for reporting private information, including government malfeasance. (One editor was prosecuted by the Grover Cleveland administration for reporting on illegal fundraising and sexual harassment by a federal official.) The 20th century brought enormous expansion of the media’s right to divulge everything from Vietnam War documents to an individual’s sexual orientation, but anxiety about new surveillance technologies has recently sparked legal backlashes against revenge porn, doxing, and other privacy violations. Gajda gives full due to each side, showing how the right to be free from public scrutiny in intimate matters is as fundamental to liberty as press freedom, but can also shield the wrongdoing of the powerful. She also sets her analysis within a lively history of scandalmongering, including Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton’s attempts to use the press to accuse each other of sexual improprieties. This nuanced and entertaining study offers crucial perspective on the “tension between the right to privacy and the right to know the truth.” Agent: Carolyn Savarese, Kneerim & Williams. (Apr.)