Sikh Temple shootings: Do our rights to privacy keep others safe?

What should government do in the name of national security, and what laws might keep us safe at the movies or at worship?  Photo: J Loughner, J Holmes, M Page

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2012 — Arizona shootings. Virginia Tech. Ft Hood. Aurora. Now the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. How do we protect ourselves in public places without thoroughly violating our right to privacy?

Should every public place have airport type security requiring screening before we enter? Could we even do that?

The six people who just died in Wisconsin are a reminder of the importance of the privacy vs. security issue. Many people do not fully understand the security issue that lies just underneath our demand for “privacy.”

We Americans will dig in and fight to the death to protect our privacy rights, rights that the Constitution does not guarantee. When we talk about our right to privacy, we are actually lumping together a number of interpretations and court decisions that have served to create “the right to privacy” and that “right” is not always clear.

There are too many privacy issues to address here, but consider:

** What are our privacy rights concerning interactions our children have at their schools?  May lockers be searched? May teachers require students answer questions or submit to body searches? 

** Do we have to submit to drug or alcohol tests at work? Can employers require an HIV test?

** When do you have to give someone your social security number? 

** What screening procedures must we allow in order to board an airplane? 

** What private information can Facebook or Google collect about us? What information about us can businesses keep? 

The pizza place we routinely use to order home delivery keeps my name, telephone number, address, and probably my ordering history, and I’m glad that they do; it reduces aggravation to not have to tell them each time I call.

The framers of our Constitution, concerned about specific aspects of privacy, adopted the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment protects our right to hold beliefs private; the Third Amendment gives us privacy rights in our home against demands that it be used to house soldiers; the Fourth Amendment protects us and our possessions against unreasonable searches and seizures; and the Fifth Amendment provides us a right to keep quiet if we so choose, commonly known as the right against self incrimination.

Many legal scholars, while recognizing the lack of certainty in their opinions, have interpreted the Ninth Amendment as a basis for broadly reading the Bill of Rights to protect privacy in ways not specifically provided in the first eight amendments.

The Fourteenth Amendment has been liberally construed by our nation’s courts, concerning the “liberty” guarantee, to include a broad array of privacy rights, including decisions about child rearing, procreation, marriage and terminating medical care. Controversial issues such as the right to watch pornography in your home and the right of a woman to have an abortion have been upheld on privacy grounds. 

How does a right to privacy affect the way we live? I distinguish between what the government does in the name of national security, and what laws might be passed to avoid me being killed when I go to the movies, or to school, or to shop. 

Or to pray.

Both national security and personal safety come back to laws which must somehow balance personal privacy and a sense of security. We must make choices as to the invasions to our privacy that we are willing to take.

You do not have to go to an airport (you can drive), and I do not have to go to the movies (home rentals).

If laws allow “security” measures that I do not like, I have choices to avoid those measures.

Gripped by fear after September 11, 2001, most of us accepted the Patriot Act as “necessary,” without recognizing its appalling impact on privacy rights and the forfeitures that would result.

Your rights have been stripped away by the government, and broad powers have been granted to law enforcement agencies in apparent conflict with the Constitution, including the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act that places anyone who protests in public areas at risk of being arrested and jailed for up to ten years.

Nidal Hasan and Seung Hui Cho - both men had recognized mental issues that were not fully vetted due to their right to privacy.

Nidal Hasan and Seung Hui Cho - both men had recognized mental issues that were not fully vetted due to their right to privacy.


This has been done in the name of national security. If this bothers you, it is your responsibility to be an informed citizen and voice your opinion with your vote. Voting alone will probably not make a difference, but it is an integral part of a process. 

I accept going through the screening at the airport. I do not accept some of the actors in that process, including those who touch women in inappropriate places. I make choices. 

When it comes to what goes on in our communities to ostensibly protect us from the crazies, I suggest that voting can be powerful. I would not want a military compound security process scanning my car before I can park in the mall’s lot.  Can you imagine the traffic on feeder roads that would result from this process during holiday season? 

I would not want similar protections when I go to my place of worship or to my routine job site.  It pains me that in some places our children have to go through metal detectors before going into school.

Without entering the gun control discussion that always surfaces after mass tragedies here, I do believe that in order for us to avoid being killed because some nut job has a gun, and otherwise to stop this type of crime, we must recognize some very basic truths. 

We will never get rid of guns, illegal guns are not the issue because it is easy to get LEGAL guns, semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles are also easy to get (there is no 2nd Amendment right to these types of weapons by the way), killers are mentally unstable people that do not think about consequences, thus deterrence does not work, and bystanders who own guns legally are not going to have the training necessary to shoot the one shooting at you.

In order to graduate our society to being protected from mentally ill killers, what is needed is a better mental health system. We need to accept that mental illness can be just as bad or worse than a physical illness.

This process would require, clearly, lots more money, better and new ways to identify those suffering with mental illnesses, new and better treatments for them, ways to insure that what was accomplished during treatments sticks, and perhaps a politically incorrect change in what we do when encountering people that “seem weird.” 

Remember, James Holmes’ psychiatrist warned University of Colorado officials about his behavior, but his rights trumped our rights that demanded those officials be able to take action.

Seung Hui Cho, the Virgina Tech shooter, suffered from selective mutism, a symptom of a larger social anxiety disorder.  Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter had raised concerns and was disciplined for proselytizing about his Muslim faith with patients and colleagues” while at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS)” (Wiki).

I am generally against prior restraint, but I will readily give up that right if it means my family lives another day.  It would be okay with me if you reported someone if he or she acted in a way that made you suspicious or concerned about your safety.  I will give up some of my privacy to aid in the effort to educate our society about mental illness, to help detect those potentially needing help, and to help eliminate mass deaths. 

I am not sure which privacy rights are involved in me acquiescing here, but I am willing.

May those who have died or were injured because others are sick find help, support and solace from all of the collective resources and sources available to them, and may we as a society move in a direction to eliminate the instances where these crazies ultimately act.


Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980.  He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics.  Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, on the Andy Parks show, on Wednesdays at 5:15 P.M., and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.

His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Paul Samakow

Attorney Paul Samakow brings his legal expertise to the headlines from life and real-life experience to The Washington Times Communties. A native Washingtonian, Samakow has been a Plaintiff’s trial lawyer since 1980, with offices in Maryland and Virginia. 

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