Privacy, Property, and Free Speech: Law and the Constitution

Course No. 9438
Professor Jeffrey Rosen,
The George Washington University Law School
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Course No. 9438
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Course Overview

Dizzying new technologies are putting unprecedented stress on America’s core constitutional values, as protections for privacy, property, and free speech are shrinking due to the wonders of modern life—from the Internet to digital imaging to artificial intelligence. It’s not hard to envision a day when websites such as Facebook, Google Maps, and Yahoo! introduce a feature that allows real-time tracking of anyone you want, based on face-recognition software and ubiquitous live video feeds.

Does this scenario sound like an unconstitutional invasion of privacy? In fact, ubiquitous surveillance may be perfectly legal, according to Supreme Court rulings that give corporations broad leeway to gather information. The Court has even come close to saying that we surrender all privacy when we step out in public.

Although the courts have struggled to balance the interests of individuals, businesses, and law enforcement, the proliferation of intrusive new technologies puts many of our presumed freedoms in legal limbo. Today, it’s easy to think that we have far more privacy and other personal rights than we in fact do. Only by educating ourselves about the current state of the law and the risks posed by our own inventions can we develop an informed opinion about where to draw hard lines, how to promote changes in the system, and what we can do to protect ourselves.

Award-winning legal scholar, professor, and Supreme Court journalist Jeffrey Rosen explains the most pressing legal issues of the modern day in Privacy, Property, and Free Speech: Law and the Constitution in the 21st Century. Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School and frequent commentator on National Public Radio, Professor Rosen delivers 24 eye-opening lectures that immerse you in the Constitution, the courts, and the post–9/11 Internet era that the designers of our legal system could scarcely have imagined.

What Would the Framers Think?

More than 200 years ago, the framers of the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights drafted a set of protections for privacy, property, and free speech that were inspired by notorious violations of those rights during the colonial period. How would they have reacted to the following aspects of modern life?

  • Full-body scans: Passengers at airports now face “virtual strip-searches” with scanners that detect intimate features of the body as well as concealed contraband. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, but border crossings and airports are largely considered exempt from this rule.
  • Cell phone surveillance: Your cell phone tracks much of your daily activity—information that should be safe from warrantless search and seizure. But according to the Supreme Court, “an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties”—in this case, to your phone company.
  • Privacy in the cloud: Private papers were once kept under lock and key at home, where they were legally protected by the Fourth Amendment. But increasingly, these documents are on servers in the digital cloud, where they have weak protection at best, according to the Supreme Court’s third-party doctrine.

And what about social media websites that control more personal data for more people than any government spy agency could possibly match—and with few legal safeguards for the responsible use of the data? Or consider the implications of brain scanners, now under development, that can read a suspect’s mind during questioning, potentially violating the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Landmark Cases

In Privacy, Property, and Free Speech, you explore these issues and many more, tracing the landmark Supreme Court rulings that have defined the scope of government powers and individual rights over the nation’s history. Among the dozens of cases that Professor Rosen discusses are these:

  • Whitney v. California: In this 1927 case, Associate Justice Louis Brandeis wrote a concurring opinion that is the most stirring defense of free speech in the history of the Supreme Court. Brandeis’s distinguished record on individual rights makes him a recurring figure in Professor Rosen’s lectures.
  • Florida v. Riley: In 1989, the high court held that the police use of a helicopter to peer into a fenced yard from 400 feet without a warrant did not violate the Fourth Amendment. But a 2012 case, U.S. v. Jones, imposed some limits on the police’s ability to track our movements by affixing secret Global Positioning System devices to our cars.
  • Atwater v. Lago Vista: Decided in 2001, this case established police authority that the framers did not anticipate: the power to arrest and detain individuals for any crime, regardless of how inconsequential. This power was expanded to include strip searches in a 2012 case called Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Burlington County.

In addition, you cover Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case challenging a state law that prohibited the use of contraceptives and that established a constitutional right of “marital privacy.” Griswold underlies the legal reasoning in Roe v. Wade, the high court’s controversial abortion decision in 1973. You also probe District of Columbia v. Heller, which held in 2008 that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms. And you get intriguing insights into the judicial mind of Chief Justice John Roberts, based on a lengthy interview that Professor Rosen conducted with the chief justice after his first term.

What Do You Think?

Called "the nation's most widely read and influential legal commentator" by the Los Angeles Times, Professor Rosen is renowned for his ability to bring legal issues alive—to put real faces and human drama behind the technical issues that cloud many legal discussions. When discussing a case in this course, he challenges you to make up your own mind, often stopping to ask, "How would you decide this case and why?" Then he encourages you to think about the impact your decision might have beyond the case in question. Could you live with consequences that might be unappealing to you?

Since our privacy, free speech, and other rights are increasingly threatened by corporations not ruled by restrictions on government, Privacy, Property, and Free Speech examines how companies get data about you and how they use it. To illustrate this process, Professor Rosen discloses a fascinating experiment that he conducted, in which he created two separate web identities for himself—a “Republican Jeff” and a “Democratic Jeff.” Then he watched how online ads quickly adjusted to target these two made-up individuals.

Finally, Professor Rosen offers a wide range of tips on what you can do to protect yourself in today’s intrusive society, whether online, at airports, or if you are ever stopped by the police for any reason.

An often-heard defense for the erosion of our liberties is that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear. After taking Privacy, Property, and Free Speech, you’ll have a more informed opinion about whether modern life gives even the most innocent among us reason to worry.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Freedom and Technological Change
    Consider three hypothetical cases that could confront the U. S. Supreme Court in the decades ahead: ubiquitous surveillance, designer embryos, and evidence from brain scans. Each has profound implications for privacy. Then survey the history of legal protections for privacy. x
  • 2
    Privacy and Virtual Surveillance
    Examine areas where new technologies are challenging our existing ideas about constitutional protections for privacy in public places. Review reasons why the Constitution provides less protection against surveillance today than it did against the search of private diaries in the 18th century. x
  • 3
    Privacy at Home
    Study the evolution of privacy in the home, which remains the place with more legal protection than anywhere else. But what does that mean in an age when our most private papers are stored not in locked desk drawers in the home but with third parties such as computer networks? x
  • 4
    Privacy on the Street
    Today, police in the United States have the power to arrest and detain individuals for any crime, regardless of how minor. In this lecture, survey your rights on the street, where the degree of monitoring has spread to new technologies such as speed cameras and smart parking meters. x
  • 5
    The Privacy of Travelers
    In 2009, the Transportation Security Administration began using body scans as a primary screening tool at airports. What are your rights when faced with this and other security measures? Learn how to assert those rights while traveling in the United States and abroad. x
  • 6
    Privacy and National Security
    Analyze the domestic war on terror in light of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Begin with Perfect Citizen, a government program designed to monitor private computer networks to forestall cyber assaults. How should the courts weigh privacy rights in such cases? x
  • 7
    Privacy in the Courtroom
    The Fifth Amendment guarantee against forced self-incrimination has dwindled to a vestigial protection for suspected white-collar criminals. Suspects are now subject to procedures, such as blood tests, that can compel self-incrimination. The future holds even more intrusive technologies that rely on neuroimaging. x
  • 8
    Privacy in the Police Station
    The main protection for mental privacy today is provided not by the Fifth Amendment but by the Miranda warning, given by police to suspects in custody. Investigate the origin of this safeguard and the continued problem with false confessions and faulty eyewitness testimony. x
  • 9
    Privacy in Electronic Communications
    Have you ever had an email or text message go astray? Was it only embarrassing or were there more serious consequences? See how incentives in the law have led many employers to search the most private areas of the workplace, including email, as often as possible. x
  • 10
    Privacy in Cell Phones and Computers
    Examine privacy protections for data stored on cell phones and computers, Also look at how the Internet is blurring boundaries between home, work, and school. For example, should school administrators be able to punish students for their social media posts that are uploaded from home? x
  • 11
    The Internet and the End of Forgetting
    With job recruiters routinely vetting candidates through Internet searches, youthful indiscretions posted online can doom a career. Probe the alarming prospect that we may never be able to escape our past or reinvent ourselves in the classic American way. x
  • 12
    Follow-Me Advertising Online
    Thanks to online data mining, companies can guess facts about you that you may have told no one—such as that you’re planning to get engaged or that you have a child on the way. Discover how information about you is collected, analyzed, and used, and what you can do about it. x
  • 13
    Privacy and the Body
    Trace the constitutional right to privacy, invoked in two landmark Supreme Court cases: Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 and Roe v. Wade in 1973. They dealt with contraception and abortion, respectively, but the reasoning and politics are vastly different in each. Explore the issues in depth and decide what you think. x
  • 14
    The Right to Die
    The increasing sophistication of medical care raises a host of legal issues about when treatment should cease and under whose authority. Investigate the response of the courts to right-to-die cases and practical steps you can take to avoid a legal struggle when the end nears. x
  • 15
    Privacy and Sexual Intimacy in Marriage
    Explore cases where the Supreme Court has been careful to not render a sweeping constitutional judgment on matters under intense public debate. Examples include eugenics and interracial marriage, which reached a national consensus several decades ago. Also look at today’s issue of gay marriage. x
  • 16
    The Constitution and Private Property
    Private property has a special status in the Constitution. Study how individual property rights apply to the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms, as well as to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, the Copyright Clause, and the Third and Fourth Amendments. x
  • 17
    The Supreme Court and Private Property
    In the first of two lectures on the Supreme Court and economic liberty, follow the court’s record in economic rights cases from the Gilded Age to the New Deal, focusing on Lochner v. New York, a 1905 case that limited the ability of government to regulate business. x
  • 18
    The Roberts Court and Economic Rights
    Beginning with insights from Professor Rosen’s interview with Chief Justice John Roberts, evaluate the current Court’s approach to economic rights cases, including the Citizens United case that struck down federal campaign finance laws and the Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act. x
  • 19
    Takings and Eminent Domain
    What constitutes a “taking” of private property? And what constitutes a “public use”? See how the Supreme Court has struggled with interpreting the Takings Clause, culminating in one of the most controversial decisions of the modern era, Kelo v. New London, in 2005. x
  • 20
    The American Free Speech Tradition
    The crowning achievement of the American free speech tradition is the principle that speech can only be suppressed when it poses an imminent threat of provoking serious lawless action. Learn how this key principle wasn’t embraced by the Supreme Court until the 20th century. x
  • 21
    From WikiLeaks to the Arab Spring
    Free speech is being tested by 21st-century controversies such as WikiLeaks, a website that publishes classified information and news leaks. Study the issues raised by this phenomenon. Also investigate the role of free speech in the Arab uprisings in 2010, and examine the effort to suppress offensive speech. x
  • 22
    Google, Facebook, and the First Amendment
    The gatekeepers for free speech online are not judges or legislators, but companies such as Google and Facebook, which decide what can be communicated case by case. Explore the power of these corporations, and look at the movement known as Network Neutrality. x
  • 23
    The Right to Be Forgotten
    Now that online posts live forever, it is hard to escape one’s past. Learn how a proposed data-protection law in Europe seeks to guarantee “the right to be forgotten.” But what are the implications for free speech if individuals and companies have a broad right to delete information that they don’t like? x
  • 24
    The Constitution in 2040
    Look ahead at technological challenges to constitutional values that may arise in the coming decades. One important conclusion is that you as a citizen have an obligation to protect your own rights. Close the course with five practical tips that you can use to protect your privacy today. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
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  • 208-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

Jeffrey Rosen

About Your Professor

Jeffrey Rosen
The George Washington University Law School
Jeffrey Rosen is Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, and a nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is also president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a museum and education center next to the Liberty Bell. Professor Rosen is a graduate of Harvard College, summa cum laude; Oxford University, where he was a Marshall...
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Privacy, Property, and Free Speech: Law and the Constitution is rated 4.4 out of 5 by 27.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fascinating & of great concern this course greatly expended what i thought i knew in the area of privacy, & often provided disturbing evidence of government overreach. Prof Rosen did an excellent job of presenting & explaining a most relevant & important subject.
Date published: 2020-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from One of the better courses offered,but.... One of the better courses offered,but it was edited poorly. When the camera angle changes or the screen changes to a photo or other graphic, there was a noticeable jump in the screen.It didn't happen throughout the entire course but with a frequency that was noticeable and distracting. No other course from the great courses catalog that I've purchased has ever displayed such a thing. Was the editing equipment malfunctioning or was the person doing the editing the problem? Having said that, the course is still excellent and well worth it.
Date published: 2020-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Privacy Property and Free Speech: Law and the Cons Professor Rosen is this country”s most energetic constitutional scholar. His enthusiasm penetrates the entirety of his presentation. One can hardly stay in one’s seat. For those who love the Constitution and enjoy listening to some of the stories behind it - Privacy, Property and Free Speech is a must.
Date published: 2019-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Something Everyone Should Be Aware Of This is a subject that everyone should be aware of as we dive deeper into a connected society and insist on sharing anything and everything. Even though the course appears the have been recorded in 2012, the subject material is still relevant and provides a lot of background as to how laws and rulings came to be. The professor gives you not only a brief history lesson on who in the Supreme Court made these decisions, but what was their thought process and the culture of the country at the time, and how did common law and statue law figure into their decisions. This course will not teach you how to "beat the system", but will teach you why the "system" is the way it is and what to expect from it. Some of the information may have evolved since the recording, such as surveillance, abortion, and LGBT problems, BUT this course will help you understand how we got some of these decisions.
Date published: 2019-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Privacy, property free speech and the constitution Professor Rosen presented a well thoughtout and in depth analysis of this very broad subject. He would ask the listner to consider thorney questions that taxed your prior notions. Clearly there is little important that is straightforward. A critical topic especially in our current environment.
Date published: 2019-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The strength and fragility of American liberty. These lectures are a brick by brick structure into the breathing body of the constitution. Battle after battle of hot, hard cases with the interpretational styles of the historical projectoriat. It covers tremendous ground. The engine of the greatest Nation in modernity.
Date published: 2019-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good historical context and modern concerns My favorite part of Professor Rosen's "Privacy, Property, and Free Speech" course is the in-depth historical context he provides, often going back to colonial times, the American Revolution, and the early days of the Bill of Rights. Rosen acknowledges issues involving technology are evolving rapidly, so I can't fault this 2012 course for not seeming completely up to date on the current state of case law. One of Rosen's positions I don't share is I don't think the Supreme Court is as heavily influenced by the weight of popular public opinion as Rosen seems to believe. I may have found only 3 typographical errors in the guidebook. The bibliography was good -- and included about 15 items authored by Rosen himself!!
Date published: 2018-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hooked This course had me hooked from the start. Professor Rosen had a firm knowledge of the subject. He has presented before the Supreme Court and fascinated me with how the law changes over time. The course content holds to the description in the catalogue which left me satisfied with it as a whole.
Date published: 2017-10-16
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