Footnotes (79)



Privacy Rights: The Virtue of Protecting a False Reputation

John A. Humbach

Pace University School of Law

May 24, 2012

What is the virtue of protecting a false reputation? The thesis of this paper is that there is none. There is none, at least, that justifies the suppression of free speech. Yet, there is a growing trend to see the protection of reputation from truth as a key function of the so-called “right of privacy.”

Unfortunately, people often do things that they are not proud of or do not want others to know about. Often, however, these are precisely the things that others want or need to know. For our own protection, each of us is better off being aware of the negative or less-than-flattering qualities of others with whom we deal.

The things that people say about each other are protected by the Constitution as much as any other form of expression. The Supreme Court has recognized repeatedly that the judgment embodied in the First Amendment is that the benefits of a free flow of information outweigh the costs and that those who speak truthfully cannot be made to do so at their peril. Therefore, disclosures of truthful information cannot, in the name of “privacy,” be constitutionally subjected to after-the-fact governmental determinations that they were not justified, unnecessary or even a crime.

Perhaps there are things that it is better for us not to see or hear. But the assumption of the First Amendment is that government should not be deciding these limitations on the free flow of information or what speech is important enough to be “worth it.” If, in the name of protecting privacy or reputations, government agencies can decide after the fact what is and is not legitimate negative information, self-censorship will abound and valuable information will suffer.

For a much more complete (and perhaps less contentious) treatment of privacy rights and the First Amendment, see my “Privacy and the Right of Free Expression,” available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract= 1996581.

Note: This paper is based on presentations at the annual conference of the Law and Society Association, held in Honolulu, HI on June 5-8 2012 and, at a conference, “Perspectives on Privacy,” held at Johannes-Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany, on June 23-24, 2011.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 12

Keywords: privacy, free expression, free speech, First Amendment, identity, private life, reputation

Open PDF in Browser Download This Paper

Date posted: June 2, 2012  

Suggested Citation

Humbach, John A., Privacy Rights: The Virtue of Protecting a False Reputation (May 24, 2012). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2071227 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2071227

Contact Information

John A. Humbach (Contact Author)
Pace University School of Law ( email )
78 North Broadway
White Plains, NY 10603
United States
(914) 422-4239 (Phone)
(914) 422-4015 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://law.pace.edu/jhumbach/
Feedback to SSRN

Paper statistics
Abstract Views: 810
Downloads: 58
Download Rank: 266,930
Footnotes:  79
People who downloaded this paper also downloaded:
1. The Right to be Forgotten
By Robert Walker

Paper comments
No comments have been made on this paper

© 2016 Social Science Electronic Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.  FAQ   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy   Copyright   Contact Us
This page was processed by apollobot1 in 0.171 seconds