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The Price of Privacy

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The Price of Privacy

Who gets to keep a secret in a hyperconnected world?

The Atlantic,

5 min read
3 take-aways
Audio & text

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America’s views on privacy have evolved with new technologies.

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  • Eye Opening
  • Overview
  • Concrete Examples


The boundary between public and private life has changed in the past century. American law has struggled to balance each citizen’s personal right to privacy and the public’s right to know. As Sarah E. Igo reports in The Atlantic, new technologies enable the media, as well as social media and corporations, to invade the private sphere and feed the public’s appetite for salacious material. Public debate is percolating around the subject of privacy in a surveillance society. While it seems that only those with money can somewhat shield themselves, Igo argues persuasively that privacy should not become a right reserved for the rich and powerful, but a “collective social good” that protects everyone.


Each individual’s privacy stands in the balance between free speech and the public’s right to know.​​​​

Society is voyeuristic. The public has always had an appetite for salacious stories about other people’s private lives. In the digital age, these stories are more accessible than ever.

The United States has seen a heated debate for more than 100 years over the extent of a person’s right to privacy versus the public’s right to know. For example, Amy Gadja’s book, Seek and Hide: The Tangled History of the Right to Privacy, explores America’s struggle to balance the two.

In the 1880s, popular broadsides exposed people’s personal lives routinely, paying extra attention to stories featuring violence and sex. But in acknowledgment that certain matters should remain private, the US Supreme Court ruled that privacy...

About the Author

 Sarah E. Igo, the Andrew Jackson Chair in American History at Vanderbilt University, also wrote The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America. The Atlantic won the Magazine of the Year General Excellence award from the American Society of Magazine Editors in 2022 and 2023.

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