Our Love of Privacy Has Spawned Some Weird Laws

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We Americans love our privacy.

And that’s good when it comes to, say, keeping the government out of your underwear drawer. But our concern for privacy has also spawned some weird laws over the years. Here are a few:

1. Wiretapping laws where you need everyone’s consent

Twelve states require anyone recording a conversation to get the consent of all people taking part in the conversation.


Fair enough, you might say. Except some cops have used the law to keep citizens from recording any interaction with them.

It hasn’t always worked. Police in Illinois tried to do this, but a state court found that the law violated First Amendment rights by prohibiting the recordings. The Supreme Court allowed that ruling to stand in late 2012.


2. Caring more about audio than video

We’re generally more protective of who sees our bodies than who hears our voices. But privacy laws don’t really work like that.

“The law tends to treat video as being much less intrusive than audio,” says Dorothy Glancy, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law. “It’s just a pervasive theme of privacy law that what you say is more important than what you look like.”

California is the only state to have recently passed a law limiting video recordings but there isn’t much pushback in the rest of the country, according to Glancy.


3. Giving kids the right to delete online posts

Your kid writes something stupid on Facebook, Twitter or whatever Instajibberish they’re using these days. Now a law in California gives them the right to delete that post.


Of course, most popular social media sites already allow users to do that. But this might prove useful if, say, someone posts something on a random website and later regrets doing so.

The downside?

If other states start passing similar laws it could really become a messy process for websites, since, you know, the internet is everywhere.


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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