Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Right to Be Let Alone

In 1972, Student Life officials at Miami University (Oxford, OH) applied the University rule against solicitation in the dorms against political campaigns. For sound political reasons, neither the McGovern nor Nixon campaigns intended to canvass the MUO dorms, but we joined together to assert what I explicitly called our right to annoy people to spread our message — propaganda in a neutral sense — and solicit votes.
The two campaigns and our First Amendment rights prevailed, which was and remains a good thing.
Since then, the means of communication have multiplied, and simultaneously we've moved toward the hyper-capitalism and rule by hucksters satirized in Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth's great comic dystopia, The Space Merchants (1952/53). So nowadays we must balance a generalized First Amendment right to propagandize, sell to, and annoy against a generalized (Fourth Amendment) right that can be usefully overstated with Justice William O. Douglas's line, “The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom."
As lawyers can now chime in, it will be a complicated balancing act.

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