The Roots of Sexual Privacy: Warren and Brandeis & the Privacy of Intimate Life

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Danielle Citron


Columbia Journal of Law & the Arts, Vol. 42, pp. 383-387, 2019


The famous law review article calling for a “right to be let alone,” was the first article calling for legal recognition of rights of sexual privacy.

Policy Relevance

Sexual privacy is crucial for self-respect and intimacy, and should be protected by privacy law.

Main Points

  • In 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis published a law review article calling for a "right to be let alone" in one's private affairs, objecting to reporters' invasive unauthorized publication of details of upper-crust society.
  • This article was revolutionary, because it was the first article to call for the right to privacy as a separate tort.
  • Warren and Brandeis's article essentially concerned sexual privacy (Warren's brother was believed to have been gay).
  • Sexual privacy should be given normative priority over other types of privacy claims; sexual privacy is important for the formation of people's identity, self-respect, intimacy, and the forging of intimate relationships.
  • Privacy is different from the right to publicity; privacy considers harms to human dignity and to intimacy, not merely the right to sell one's image.

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