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The First Amendment and Privacy Rights in the US

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The First Amendment and Privacy Rights in the US

Before the year 1791, the American constitution guaranteed American citizens with limited civil liberties. To provide such guarantees, the proposal for the first amendment was presented to the state for approval in the year 1789 (Hudson, 2002). It was not until the year 1791 that the amendment was adopted. Through the first amendment, the United States constitution guarantees four different types of freedoms, namely freedom to religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom to demand the end to government wrongdoings.

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The United States Constitution contains no direct right to privacy. However, the Bill of Rights upholds privacy by protecting specific aspects of privacy (Hudson, 2002). The main aspects envisioned by the right of privacy are the right to be free from unreasonable government surveillance, the right to prevent collection or dissemination of personal information, and the right to autonomy. The right to privacy embodies a sense of autonomy because every person should remain free from government and society’s intrusion (Wexler, 2011). As such, the constitution acknowledges that individuals should remain free from interference by the state. Through this concept, the right to privacy allows individuals to define their own life. Currently, privacy has been assumed as a privileged right due to its enormous attention. However, it should be noted that the right to privacy is subject to limitations in the interest of other people’s rights (Wexler, 2011).

As illustrated by the first amendment notable cases, the United States supreme court can only interpret the constitution, or decide how the amendments are to be applied (Hudson, 2002). Supreme Court roles in the first amendment process are very vital in the history of the US because the reversal of the court decision is always unlikely. Through this understanding, the Supreme Court, on many occasions, considers the validity of the proposed amendments by considering methods of proposal, ratification, as well as their constitutionality. For instance, in the year 1919, the supreme court had to rule out an issue on whether the government had violated the first amendment rights through passing a law that punishes dissent during war times (Wexler, 2011). In that era, Charles Schenck, who was against the war, distributed pamphlets accusing the government of violating constitutional rights by sending its soldiers to foreign countries to fight. During the court process, Justice Oliver Wendell upheld that Charles had not violated his first amendment right to freedom of speech. The court ruling presented a phenomena call a clear and present test. Based on this test, several cases have been solved using the approach (Wexler, 2011).

With improvement in technology, vast amounts of private information can be stored and retrieved. With this advancement, most Americans are now concern about their private information being accessed by the public (Wexler, 2011). Despite these concerns, Americans are still hopeful, since to certain degrees the privacy laws protect them. As affirmed through the Watkins verses United States case in the year 1957, the court upholds individuals’ privacy by limiting the government’s power to investigate the private lives of American citizens (Hudson, 2002). To uphold privacy rights, the court through the Roe verses Wade case in the year 1973 stated that privacy rights allow women to have an abortion of their fetus. Currently, this ruling has attracted numerous heated debates with abortion rights activist arguing that women have constitutional right to have an abortion (Wexler, 2011).


Hudson, D. L. (2002). The Bill of Rights: the first ten amendments of the Constitution. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers.

Wexler, J. (2011). The odd clauses: understanding the Constitution through ten of its most curious provisions. Boston: Beacon Press.

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