In 1890, Boston attorney Samuel Warren and his law partner, future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, wrote of the “general right of the individual to be let alone.” It is in keeping with that sentiment that an amendment to the Maine Constitution is proposed.

The language of the proposal reads: “All natural persons have an inherent right to privacy that is free from intrusion, including privacy of a natural person’s personal life, personal communications, private affairs and personal thoughts or inner life.”

While “natural persons” seems an odd expression, the phrase refers to humans to the exclusion of such entities as corporations. (After the Citizens United decision, Robert Reich said he would only believe a corporation is a “person” when Texas executes one.) The rest of the phrasing seems straightforward, although reference to one’s “inner life” seems a bit New Age.

A modest suggestion would be to add language found in other state constitution privacy amendments, something that provides protection from the unreasonable interception of all private communications, including electronic, with exceptions based on a compelling government interest. Moreover, language should be inserted that prohibits the commercial exploitation of personal information by social media companies.

While it was the government that Warren and Brandeis were concerned about in the late 19th century, in the 21st century the threat is less Big Brother than it is Big Tech. As Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari has stated, “Those who control the data control the future not just of humanity, but the future of life itself.”

Joe Wagner

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