The Right to Privacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 The Right of Privacy
  • 1:27 Marriage
  • 2:45 Abortion
  • 5:21 Rights of Family
  • 6:39 Importance
  • 7:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the right of privacy. We will take a closer look at the right, what it includes and what it means to society today.

The Right of Privacy

The right of privacy is defined as an individual's legal right, not explicitly provided in the United States Constitution, to be left alone and live life free from unwarranted publicity. It was important for the early settlers that their homes and persons be protected from unwarranted governmental intrusion (the basis of the Fourth Amendment), the right to be one's own person (the basis of the First Amendment) and the right against self-incrimination (the Fifth Amendment.) All of these specifically mentioned rights have the undertone of a person's right to privacy. Therefore, the Ninth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment specifically note that rights not mentioned in the Constitution should not be taken to mean that the people don't have them. And the courts have followed that logic.

Privacy rights are considered fundamental rights. Certain fundamental rights are protected under the Constitution. Therefore, if they are given to some people but not to others, then it's a violation of the Constitution. When courts are looking to see if someone's privacy rights were violated by the government, they look to see if the government's action was necessary to protect a compelling interest.


The right to get married and divorced is a fundamental right. If the government were to make a law prohibiting marriages, they would have to show that it was necessary to protect a compelling interest. For example, if the State of Illinois were to make a law that said that black males and white females could not get married - would this law stand? Can you think of any reason that would be necessary and what interests those would be protecting? There is no reason that would be compelling enough to justify such a law. Therefore, the law would be stricken.

However, what if the State of Illinois instead were to create a law preventing death row inmates from getting married while incarcerated? Can you think of a justification of why this law would be necessary to protect a compelling interest? There are many penological interests that are at stake with a violent criminal getting married to another inmate or an average citizen while incarcerated. This would create safety issues related to a variety of things, like spousal visits to the prison and how would the wedding ceremony occur. Therefore, it is likely that such a law such as this would be allowed to stand.


There are many reasons why states create laws that prevent women from terminating pregnancies. Some of the reasons may be outdated, some may be religious, some may be political and some may be medical. Regardless of the reason, the courts have found that the right of privacy includes a woman being able to terminate her pregnancy, with a few exceptions, without the interference of the government. The 'necessary to achieve a compelling interest' test is not useful in this situation because of the issues of fetus rights versus the woman's privacy rights. Therefore, the privacy right with regards to abortion has been divided up into a few different areas.

If the woman is in a stage of pregnancy before a fetus is viable, or able to live, outside of her body, then the state may only adopt regulations regarding abortion that do not impose an 'undue burden' on her ability to obtain an abortion. An example of a law that would be able to stand up in the courts would be one requiring doctors performing abortions to be licensed physicians. Can you think of why this law would be able to stand up in court? It would be because there is no undue burden on the woman obtaining the abortion in simply requiring her to go to a licensed medical doctor to obtain it.

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