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Law professor channels Justice Brandeis to discuss online privacy rights

Justice Brandeis’ faith in public reason comes to life through Jeffrey Rosen

Rachel Hicks

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Justice Louis D. Brandeis believed that speeches should only be banned if they are intended or likely to cause violence, Law Professor and CEO Jeffrey Rosen said.

Rosen is a law professor at George Washington University as well as the author of “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet” and the CEO of the National Constitution Center. Rosen brought Brandeis’ belief in free speech over dignity back to life in his speech titled “The Curse of Bigness: What Would Brandeis Say About Privacy in the Age of Google.”

Brandeis (1856-1941) was an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court known for shaping the modern government with a focus on individual liberties. He believed citizens should be trusted to sort out risky ideas. If they did not, he thought they would become passive and incapable of making educated decisions about how to live their own lives.

Brandeis had an overwhelming faith in public reason, Rosen said.

Disclosure is the best remedy for democracy, said Rosen characterising Brandeis’ thought. The Brandeis Torts, Brandeis’ views on the right to privacy, annulled citizens to sue for the public disclosure of truthful and embarrassing gossip. Any attempt to suppress the truth leads to violence — counter-speech was the best way to censor speech and controversial thoughts.

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sun- light is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Rosen said, quoting Brandeis.

The freedom of thought for all citizens should be valued over upsetting celebrities, Brandeis thought. Given time, the citizens would process what was said publically correctly, finding the truth. Brandeis’ faith in time was great, Rosen said.

“We need to use our moments of leisure to develop our faculties,” Rosen said, char- acterizing Brandeis’ thought.

Rosen explained how Brandeis thought citizens’ free time should be spent reading or enriching their academic lives. This will help them to decipher truth when faced with difficult uncensored speech or ideas.

Rosen argued that it is important to translate the fourth amendment into the modern era.

Google and Facebook created new boundaries to be crossed regarding privacy rights. Rosen said our cell phones should require search warrants because they contain our personal thoughts and ideas, which should be protected.

“Our cell phones are like our diaries,” said Rosen.

The age of technology has changed the definition of privacy. Yet people’s thoughts, beliefs and ideas still merit the same respect as did those during the Revolutionary War, or any point in time.

“Those who won our independence… valued liberty as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty,” said Brandeis.

Freedom of speech and thought ought to be cherished, with appropriate age of tech- nology adjustments, as it was in The War.

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The student newspaper of Washington and Lee University
Law professor channels Justice Brandeis to discuss online privacy rights