Presidential Privacy Violations

Privacy violations are destructive, no matter the perpetrator, but governmental privacy violations cast a particularly long and destructive shadow. A recent illustration began in 2017, when the Department of Justice revealed the texts and extramarital affair of public servants to the press. The President amplified that information in a years-long smear campaign. To the public servants, the wreckage included job losses, stained reputations, physical danger, and emotional suffering. To the public, the damage included a further loss of trust in the government’s ability to handle personal data with care. In the wake of privacy violations at the hands of powerful government actors, we must recognize the wrongs done to individuals and the public. Existing law provides some relief, but the government’s own actions must play a part. At every branch and level, local, state, and federal, the government must work to restore public confidence in its data-handling practices. A key step would be to recognize intimate privacy as a foundational right.

a. Jefferson Scholars Foundation Schenck Distinguished Professor in Law, Caddell and Chapman Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law; Vice President, Cyber Civil Rights Initiative; 2019 MacArthur Fellow. Reading and engaging with Professor Helen Norton’s scholarship is always a joy. Thanks to the University of Illinois Law Review for celebrating Norton’s important book, THE GOVERNMENT’S SPEECH AND THE CONSTITUTION (2019), for including me in the symposium, and for their excellent edits. I’m grateful to Lisa Page and Peter Strzok for their bravery and generosity; Monica Lewinsky for her grace; Leslie Ashbrook for extraordinary research; Richard Schragger and Payvand Ahdout for helpful feedback; Madelaine Pisani for expert research and editing; Billi Morningstar and Karen Sowers for assistance; and Dean Risa Goluboff and Vice Dean Michael Gilbert for support.

The full text of this Symposium is available to download as a PDF.