Nadine Strossen: Is privacy a 20th-century concern?

Nadine Strossen has written, lectured, and practiced extensively in the areas of constitutional law, civil liberties, and international human rights. From 1991 through 2008 she served as president of the American Civil Liberties Union, the first woman to head the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization. Professor Strossen retains leadership positions with the ACLU as a member of its National Advisory Council and Co-Chair of its Campaign for the Future.

The National Law Journal has twice named Professor Strossen one of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.” In 1996, Working Woman Magazine listed her among the “350 Women Who Changed the World 1976–1996.” In 1997, Upside Magazine included her in the “Elite 100: 100 Executives Leading The Digital Revolution.” In 1998, Vanity Fair Magazine included Professor Strossen in “America’s 200 Most Influential Women.” In 1999, Ladies’ Home Journal included her in “America’s 100 Most Important Women.” In 2005, Professor Strossen was honored by the University of Tulsa College of Law and the Tulsa Law Review, which made her scholarly work the subject of their Fifth Annual Legal Scholarship Symposium titled “Nadine Strossen: Scholar as Activist.”

Professor Strossen’s writings have been published in many scholarly and general interest publications (more than 250 published works). Her book, Defending Pornography: Free Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women’s Rights (Scribner, 1995), was named by The New York Times as a “Notable Book” of 1995 and was republished in 2000 by NYU Press, with a new introduction by the author. Her coauthored book, Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (NYU Press, 1995), was named an “outstanding book” by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

Professor Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College (1972) and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1975), where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Before becoming a law professor, she practiced law for nine years in Minneapolis (her hometown) and New York City.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Is privacy a 20th-century concern? 

Nadine Strossen: I don’t know exactly what he means by that even though I have read his writing and I have debated him, but if he is saying that it doesn’t exist as a constitutional right, it shouldn't exist as a constitutional right, it doesn’t exist as a technological reality, I disagree with any or all of those propositions. I would go back to a judge that I admire even more than I admire Judge Posner, namely Louis Brandeis in a famous case in the early 20th century who said and he said it far more eloquently than my paraphrase, but basically that privacy is the greatest right…the one that is most valued by people and he had this very encompassing concept of privacy, which I share and it is…but he summed it up very succinctly when he said "the right to be let alone" and I think that is really a nice way of summarizing pretty much all of civil liberties and human rights, which is that you as an individual have the right to self determination and autonomy free of intrusion by the government or for that matter by private sector, interlopers, free of intrusion in any way, whether it is intrusion in watching you, whether it is intrusion in listening to you, monitoring you, whether it is intrusion in interfering with your ability to make private decisions for yourself and they are all interrelated and I think it is no coincidence that George Orwell's 1984, which I re-read every few years and it really stands the test of time and it is one of those books that takes on new and enhanced meaning every few years that I read it in light of what has happened since the last time I read it. If people who haven’t read it recently might not remember this, it is not that the government is engaging in torture or abuse or kangaroo court military commissions or some of the dramatic violations we are seeing now, the damage is done simply by the omnipresence of Big Brother and the notice that Big Brother is watching you. That is doesn’t cause killings, it doesn’t cause even the physical or psychological damage of torture, but it is the dehumanization, the loss of individual dignity when you know that you are never going to get beyond the government's radar screen and that has a chilling impact on how you conduct your life. You know what you read, what you see, whom you see, whom your relationship, so I couldn't disagree with him more.

 

Recorded On: 2/14/08


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