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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alito's Princeton Student Project on Privacy

EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, has posted a copy of the final report (pdf) prepared by Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito for a 1972 conference on "the Boundaries of Privacy in American Society." EPIC summarizes that the "paper proposes far-reaching protections for the right of privacy, and specifically addresses such topics as the use of census data, polygraphs, domestic surveillance, communications privacy, computer security and encryption, consumer protection, and homosexuality."

Peter Swire however says that the report is not very informative regarding Judge Alito's personal views of privacy. Professor Swire writes to Declan McCullagh:

Hi Declan:

A few comments on the privacy report from Judge Alito's college days.

First, I was in the same major at Princeton as Judge Alito, several years behind him. These "policy conference" reports were emphatically group efforts, usually with negotiation, joint drafting, and the other hallmarks of a group project. The final report provides little evidence of any one participant's views.

Second, the hot-button part of the story is this recommendation: "The Conference voted to recommend that the current sodomy laws be changed. The Conference believes that no private sexual act between consenting adults should be forbidden." Note the language "the Conference voted." That is the only indication of voting in the report, suggesting that a minority objected. Also, note that this seems like a proposed legislative change --vote to change the laws. So there is no indication of a position on the constitutional right of privacy.

Overall, the report is an impressive student effort to analyze the issues. Many of its recommendations have become law through the Privacy Act, the Church Commission recommendations, the anti-polygraph law, and soon.

The report suggests that Judge Alito studied these issues intensively. It does not tell us what he believed then, or believes now.


It would be interesting to hear recollection from other members of group regarding Judge Alito's thoughts back then.


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