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Truth and secret: the protection of privacy in ancient German, French and English law

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image of Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis / Revue d'Histoire du Droit / The Legal History Review

Comparing the legal development in France, Germany and England from 1500–1800, this article analyses the protection of those interests which are covered today by the law of privacy. Continental law, influenced by the Roman actio iniuriarum, protected personal secrets, and it also restrained, to a certain extent, the divulgation of embarrassing truths. The English law of defamation however, afforded no comparable protection, the proof of truth ("justification") being a perfect defence against any claim for damages under the head of defamation. The conclusion that the civil law has a long tradition of preserving sensitive information against unwanted publicity is underlined by the fact that the ancient ideas of protecting secrets and restricting publication of the truth helped 19th century lawyers in France and in Germany to approach the modern concept of privacy ("vie privée", "Privatleben").


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