The Limits Of Privacy (The Kluwer international series in engineering & computer science)

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9780465040896: The Limits Of Privacy (The Kluwer international series in engineering & computer science)

Privacy is perhaps the most hallowed of American rights—and most people are concerned that new technologies available to governments and corporations threaten to erode this most privileged of rights. But in The Limits of Privacy, Amitai Etzioni offers a decidedly different point of view, in which the right to privacy is balanced against concern for public safety and health. Etzioni looks at five flashpoint issues: Megan's Laws, HIV testing of infants, deciphering of encrypted messages, national identification cards, and medical records, and concludes that there are times when Amricans' insistence on privacy is not in the best interests of society at large. He offers four clear and concise criteria which, when applied jointly, help us to determine when the right to privacy should be overridden for the greater public good.Almost every week headlines warn us that our cell phones are being monitored, our e-mails read, and our medical records traded on the open market. Public opinion polls show that Americans are dismayed about incursions against personal privacy. Congress and state legislatures are considering laws designed to address their concerns.Focusing on five flashpoint issues—Megan's Law, mandatory HIV testing of infants, encryption of electronic documents, national identification cards and biometric identifiers, and medical records—The Limits of Privacy argues counterintuitively that sometimes major public health and safety concerns should outweigh the individual's right to privacy. Presenting four concise criteria to determine when the right to privacy should be preserved and when it should be overridden in the interests of the wider community, Etzioni argues that, in some cases, we would do well to sacrifice the privacy of the individual in the name of the common good.

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Review:

Privacy isn't all it's made out to be, says George Washington University scholar Amitai Etzioni. "Without privacy no society can long remain free," he writes, but our communities also have other goals that sometimes must override the privacy imperative. "Should the FBI be in a position to crack the encrypted messages employed by terrorists before they use them to orchestrate the next Oklahoma City bombing?" he asks. Etzioni's answer is a resounding "yes," and he applies similar logic to a number of areas. He believes, for example, that newborn babies should undergo HIV tests without parental consent because they could benefit from immediate treatment, even though mothers worried about personal revelations might object. He also supports the various sorts of "Megan's laws" that try to protect society against sex offenders.

Etzioni believes the government will use this sort of personal information responsibly; his faith is so complete in this regard that he even supports issuing national ID cards to all Americans. Big business doesn't fare nearly as well in his estimation: he worries that companies will abuse private medical records. Although there is much common sense on these pages, most readers will find areas of disagreement with Etzioni. He nevertheless offers an intelligent challenge to America's libertarian impulses. --John J. Miller

About the Author:

Amitai Etzioni is the University Professor of the George Washington University. He is the author of many books, including The Spirit of Community; Responsibilities and the Communitarian Agenda; and The New Golden Rule, winner of the 1997 Simon Wiesenthal Center for Tolerance Award. He has taught at Harvard and Columbia universities, and was senior adviser to the White House from 1978 to 1979. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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