Privacy & Politics


This page will be updated the next time the course is taught.

Susan E. Gallagher, Associate Professor

Political Science Department, UMASS Lowell


This course traces the development of ideas about privacy in twentieth-century American society.  By studying major Supreme Court decisions, we will examine how technological innovation has both encouraged and undermined efforts to separate the public and private spheres.  We will also explore the role of gender in the making of the public/private dichotomy by examining women's increasingly visible participation in politics, culture, and the economy.  Finally, by looking at recent trends in news coverage, media programming, and corporate data mining,  we will question whether the private realm can still be described as a coherent or valued space in present-day American social and political life.

You can find extracts from all of the Supreme Court Cases listed below, as well as links to the full texts of opinions and background information on The Supreme Court Page .  

  Click Here for Course Requirements 

The Emergence of the Public/Private Dichotomy 


Louis Brandeis, Andy Warhol

"The makers of our Constitution...sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred as against the Government, the right to be let alone -- the most comprehensive of the rights of man and the right most valued by civilized men." -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, dissenting in Olmstead v. United States (1928) Quoted on ACLU Website

Click here for study questions

Required Readings:                                      Print out all readings and bring them to class.

  1. Communications Technology Timeline

  1. Ronald B. Standler, An Overview of Privacy Law in the U.S.A.

  2. Bradwell v. Illinois (1872) Prohibited women from practicing law

  3. Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, "The Right to Privacy," Harvard Law Review, Volume IV, No. 5, December 1890.

  4. Susan Gallagher, "A Man's Home: Rethinking the Origins of the Public/Private Dichotomy in American Law"

  5. The Eighteenth Amendment (1919) & The Nineteenth Amendment (1920) 

  6. Lochner v. New York (1905)  Ruled that labor laws violate liberty of contract

  7. Muller v. Oregon (1908) Permitted sex discrimination in employment

  8. Prohibition (1919-1933)

  9. Olmstead v. United States (1928). Permitted wiretapping by law enforcement officials.

They've Got Your Number:

Privacy and the Evolution of the

Interventionist State

Required Readings: 

  1. A Switch in Time: The Supreme Court & the New Deal

  2. History of Social Security Numbers

  3. The Tea Party that Changed History

  4. Reds: 1947-1953 -  A CNN Documentary (browse through links)

  5. Howard Zinn, "The United States, 1945-1960"

  6. The Roles of Women During World War Two

  7. F.B.I. History Page

  8. History of the C.I.A.

  9. Dwight Eisenhower, "State of the Union, 1958"

  10. McCarthyism: Ellen Schrecker, "The State Steps In"  Watkins v. United States (1957) Ruled that "Congress has no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of Congress." 

  11. An Overview of the Privacy Act of 1974

  12. Arizona v. Evans (1995). Ruled that arrests made on the basis of mistakes made in computerized records do not necessarily violate constitutional rights.  [Represents effort of the Court to deal with problems posed by computerized criminal records]



Click here for study questions

The Ultimate Privacy: A Backyard Bomb Shelter

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Get Me Out of Here!

Countervailing Currents: Privacy in American Society during the 1960's and 1970's

Required Readings: 

  1. Betty Friedan, "The Problem That Has No Name," The Feminine Mystique (1963) Reflections on the plight of the white suburban housewife 

  2. National Organization for Women (NOW), Statement of Purpose (1966)

  3. Gloria Steinem, "Women's Liberation Aims to Free Men Too," The Washington Post, June 7, 1970

  4. Abortion Law Home Page - Browse links for background information as summaries of cases related to Roe v. Wade

  5. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965).  Overturned laws forbidding the use of contraceptives by married couples.

  6. Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1965. Held that laws preventing unmarried people from obtaining contraceptives violate rights to privacy.

  7. Roe v. Wade (1973).  Permitted limited access to abortion by citing rights to privacy.

  8. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980)  Upheld the Hyde Amendment, a law that banned federal funding of abortion for low-income women, partly on the grounds that protecting constitutional rights to privacy does not require the government to remove obstacles presented by personal conditions such as indigence.

  9. WEBSTER v. REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES, 492 U.S. 490 (1989) Upheld a Missouri law that defined the moment of conception as the start of human life, forbade the use of state property to carry out abortions, and required tests to determine the viability of the fetus or, as William Rehnquist put it in the majority opinion,  the viability of the "unborn child."


   **Click Here to See Midterm Exam**  

  1. Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986).  Defined standards for liability in sexual harassment cases.

  2. Anita Allen and Erin Mack, "How Privacy Got its Gender," Northern Illinois University Law Review 10 (1990)

  3. Susan E. Gallagher, "The Personal Is Political.  Now What?"

  4. Gender & Electronic Privacy

  5. Anita Allen, "Lying to Protect Privacy"

  6. Bowers v. Hardwick (1986) Held that the constitutional "zone of privacy" that includes married and unmarried heterosexuals does not include same-sex partners.

  7. Lawrence and Garner v. Texas (2003).  Struck down Bowers v. Hardwick.

  8. Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health (2004) Legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

  9. "Don't Ask; Don't Tell; Don't Pursue" or "If I Heard What I Think I Heard, You're in Big Trouble."

  10. Wendy Kaminer, "I Spy, " The American Prospect (August 14, 2000)

  11. Anonymity for Rape Victims?

  12. Margo Magowan, "The Shame of Rape"

  13. Debating Publication of Rape Victims' Names 

  14. Katie Roiphe, "Date Rape's Other Victim," The New York Times (1993)

  15. (browse)

  16. Megan's Law (browse)

  17. The Coming Out Project (browse)

  18. Millions of Memoirs

Privacy in the 21st Century:

Social, Economic, and Legal Concerns

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Required Readings: 

Students will supply the rest of the required readings.  You must email me a hyperlink to the reading of your choice ASAP.  Please identify a topic that sheds light on a specific aspect of the problem of privacy in American society. Be sure to provide a brief description and to include your full name in your email.

If the article you choose is appropriate, I will email the link to the rest of the class.  Then we will make a schedule that allows us to discuss related readings during a single session. 

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