Is Alito Strongly Pro-Privacy?
An interesting report written by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has surfaced from 1972 entitled The Boundaries of Privacy in American Society. In the report, Alito takes a very strong stance toward privacy. Here are some of the highlights:
· “At the present time . . . we sense a great threat to privacy in modern America; we all believe that the thret to privacy is steadily and rapidly mounting; we all believe that action must be taken on many fronts now to preserve privacy.”
· “We believe the potential for invasions of privacy through the use of comptuers is so great that all private computer systems should be licensed by the federal government.”
· “[W]e are convinced that in recent years government has often used improper means to gather informtion about individuals who posed no threat either to their government or to their fellow citizens. . . . Most of the problem in this area involves surveillance by the federal governemnt of persons it believes to be subversive. In general, this is the province of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and it is completely improper for the Central Intelligence Agency to enter the field as it has apparently done in recent years. It is also quite wrong for military intelligence to get deeply involved in domestic surveillance.”
· Alito calls for strengthening the privacy protections of federal electronic surveillance law. He calls for shortening the period in which court orders can allow the government to engage in surveillance; and he recommends adding provisions to the law to regulate surveillance even when one party to the communication consents.
· “The Conference believes that no private sexual act between consenting adults should be forbidden.”
· “We propose the following measures to prevent invasions of privacy by private consumer reporting agencies: 1. only “hard,” factual verifiable data should be collected; 2. only authoritative sources, such as employers, doctors, and public records should be consulted to obtain information; 3. only “relevant” information should be collected; 4. the qualified privilege against libel and defamation suits now granted to consumer reporting agencies should be rescinded.”
What conclusions should one draw from this report?
The report was written over 30 years ago, so it is unclear whether it reflects Alito’s current views. The views expressed in the report reflect the great concern over privacy in the 1960s and early 1970s that swept over the country in the early days of the computer. Alito’s views were thus not uncommon at that time.
The report appears to be written on behalf of “The Conference on the Boundaries of Privacy in American Society,” and Alito is the group’s chairman. Thus, he may simply be reporting the group’s conclusions, not his own personal convictions.
In the end, I don’t give this report much weight in evaluating Alito’s views, but it is an interesting document nonetheless.