There is no actual language in the Constitution that gives Americans the right to privacy; indeed, there is no Amendment purporting to give Americans such a right. However, in the 1960 case, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court of the United States read into the Bill of Rights what was always implicitly there - a right to privacy, existing under natural law, or in the "shadows" and "penumbras" of the Constitution.
The case, about the right to use contraceptives, was a landmark decision that more or less set the stage for privacy rights in America, culminating, finally, in the Roe v. Wade decision granting the right to abortion. Nevertheless, the right to privacy is not absolute, and shouldn't be in certain cases. The rights and limitations of privacy will be discussed in other sections.
Privacy in the Workplace
Unlike in earlier decades, technology makes it much easier now for employers to invade the privacy of an employee, whether by checking their emails, listening in on phone conversations, and ransacking the employee's cubicle while he or she is away. Believe it or not, employers can also find out what you've been looking at on the web. It's all perfectly legal. Once you enter the workplace, your expectation of privacy is reduced considerably, in a legal context. That means your employer can monitor your behaviors. Other privacy issues in the workplace are drug testing and background checks.
Public Figures and Privacy
With respect to certain privacy rights, public figures such as the President of the United States or Tom Cruise, have virtually no legal right to privacy. What the media may know about a celebrity or politician is fair game for publication, no matter how dastardly the information may be. This is so because where public figures are involved, the newsworthiness of the information will outweigh the right to privacy of the public figure as long as the information is actually true and was not printed or aired with "actual malice." When celebrities and politicians sue the media, the legal question generally boils down to two questions: Was the information true, and was it printed without actual malice or intent to harm the public figure. If the answer is no, the media will succeed on the legal claim nearly every time.
However, if you are an average person with no public figure status, the media doesn't have a legal right to go printing and airing your dirty laundry. This is because your right to privacy outweighs the newsworthiness of the information.
Right To Die
There seems to be a common threat in most right to privacy issues, which is that they are all surrounded by some controversy, and there is certainly no exception to one's right to die and, in particular, assisted suicide. Under the current legal framework, if your state passes a law that criminalizes assisted suicide, the law is constitutional, and many states have such laws on the books, including Washington and New York which are the first two to pass such laws.
One state, Oregon, does allow doctor assisted suicide, with certain caveats. The doctor may prescribe, but not administer, medication to assist suicide, so long as the patient has less than six months to live, and so long as two other doctors determine that the patient is mentally competent to make that decision. Additionally, the right to refuse life-sustaining medication or procedures is also legal in all 50 states.
Do we still have thte Right to Remain Silent?
On June 21, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that people do not have a constitutional right to refuse to tell police their names, so that now the government is free to arrest and punish people who won't cooperate by revealing their identity. The ruling was a follow up to a 1968 decision that said police may briefly detain someone on reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, without the stronger standard of probable cause, to get more information. Justices said that during such brief detentions, known as Terry stops after the 1968 ruling, people must answer questions about their identities. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy stated, "Obtaining a suspect's name in the course of a Terry stop serves important government interests."
"You have the right to remain silent." Well, not really any more. You did before the Supreme Court handed down this, but now, when a police officer suspecting you of a crime stops you in the street and asks your name, you can actually be prosecuted for refusing to answer.
For police officers and citizens, the ruling is a major change in the Investigative Stop (or Terry stop) analysis. Previously, unless police had reasonable suspicion, citizens could simply walk away from a police officer. Now, apparently, there is no privacy in one's name, and any citizen has to, at the very least, give an police officer his or her name if asked. The decision is a defeat for privacy rights advocates who argue that the government could use this power to force people who have done nothing wrong to submit to fingerprinting or divulge even more personal information.