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None of Your Damn Business

Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age

None of Your Damn Business

Privacy in the United States from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age

Capello investigates why we’ve been so blithe about giving up our privacy and all the opportunities we’ve had along the way to rein it in.

Every day, Americans surrender their private information to entities claiming to have their best interests in mind. This trade-off has long been taken for granted, but the extent of its nefariousness has recently become much clearer. As None of Your Damn Business reveals, the problem is not so much that data will be used in ways we don’t want, but rather how willing we have been to have our information used, abused, and sold right back to us. In this startling book, Lawrence Cappello targets moments from the past 130 years of US history when privacy was central to battles over journalistic freedom, national security, surveillance, big data, and reproductive rights. As he makes dismayingly clear, Americans have had numerous opportunities to protect the public good while simultaneously safeguarding our information, and we’ve squandered them every time. None of Your Damn Business is a rich and provocative survey of an alarming topic that grows only more relevant with each fresh outrage of trust betrayed.

352 pages | 6 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2019

History: American History

Law and Legal Studies: Legal Thought

Political Science: Public Policy

Sociology: Collective Behavior, Mass Communication


“Cappello’s puckish sensibilities and engaging style dovetail wittily with his well-chosen and thoughtful examples, resulting in an academic text that any reader can appreciate. This book is a must-read for legislators, policymakers, and anyone curious about the ways their privacy could potentially be compromised by the government, the media, or data brokers.”

Publishers Weekly

“A thorough account of privacy struggles that draws on deep research to reveal that the privacy dilemma dates back more than a century and has roiled American life through two world wars, the New Deal, the Cold War, and the post 9/11 era. . . . None of Your Damn Business provides excellent background information for citizens concerned with the erosion of privacy rights, as well as for government officials and legal professionals positioned to act upon privacy laws that protect citizens while providing necessary oversight.”

Foreword Reviews

"Cappello’s treatment manages the trick of being both thorough and lively."

American Historical Review

 “‘What is it we fear we’re losing?’ Cappello asks in his brilliant study of privacy in America. Is there any timelier question? Thoroughly researched and deftly told, None of Your Damn Business is a history of privacy written for and about Wall Street and Main Street, government and the courts, intelligence operatives and digital entrepreneurs, current and future citizens. It deserves our full attention.”

David Nasaw | author of The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy

“Tracing a century of debates on topics from national security to reproductive rights, None of Your Damn Business offers a lively, instructive account of Americans’ ambivalent (and often muddled) thinking about privacy.”

Sarah Igo | author of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

“Privacy, or the intimate politics of power, is becoming more important with each day. If there is no privacy, there can be no resistance and thus no social progress. In this fine book, Cappello makes a lucid case for why we need what Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the right to be left alone.’”

Christian Parenti | author of The Soft Cage: Surveillance in America from Slavery to the War on Terror

“Calmly, clearly, and sensibly, Mr. Cappello shows us how privacy as a right—and as a legal concept—gradually evolved as America itself evolved from small, largely rural beginnings into today’s incredibly intricate, sophisticated mega-state driven by an equally intricate, sophisticated mega-economy.”

Aram Bakshian | The Washington Times

Table of Contents



Part 1: What We Talk about When We Talk about Privacy

Part 2: Shouting from the Housetops: The Right to Privacy and the Rise of Photojournalism, 1890–1928

Part 3: Exposing the Enemy Within: Privacy and National Security, 1917–1961

Part 4: Wiretaps, Bugs, and CCTV: Privacy and the Evolution of Physical Surveillance, 1928–1998

Part 5: Big Iron and the Small Government: Privacy and Data Collection, 1933–1988

Part 6: Sex, Morality, and Reproductive Choice: The Right to Privacy Recognized, 1961–1992

Part 7: Taking Stock



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