Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "The Limits of Privacy"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "The Limits of Privacy"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

If one seeks a current book that is creating great controversy in the public policy field, "The Limits of Privacy" by Amitai Etzioni should fulfill your search. This book combines philosophical political discussions with actual issues and then draws its own conclusions. Whether one agrees or not with the author’s opinions, this book is definitely raising spirited debate. As the book includes such issues before legislatures as Megan’s Law, this book is useful to legislative researchers wishing to see the author’s commutarian perspective.

The author, Amitai Etzioni, is a leading proponent of the commutarian viewpoint. He is often found on most scholars’ lists as among the most influential modern Sociology and Public Policy theorists. Communitarians argue that policies should consider what is best for the community while simultaneously attempting to protect privacy rights. A balance needs to be established between these two goals as they often are in conflict. Amitai Etzioni agues that individual privacy rights should be protected except when such preservation presents clear threat to the community welfare.

The author claims in this book there are public safety and health concerns which are adversely affected by attempts to defend personal privacy rights. Etzioni argues that these concerns should be evaluated according to their moral, legal, and social aspects. In this book, the common good wins out over privacy issues in most of the issues presented, namely universal identification, Megan’s law, testing infants for HIV, and encryption for online privacy. Only on examining the issue of the privacy of medical records does the author side with the advocates of individual privacy versus the community welfare.

The prescription for policy analysis, as presented by the author, is that privacy concerns should be considered first with policies restricting such personal privacy being accomplished with as minimal intrusion as possible. Critics will argue that the author seems to readily advocate proceeding with such intrusions.

As for Megan’s Law, Etzioni approaches the issue by balancing the rights of convicted people who have served their sentence versus the community right to be aware that a convicted sex offender resides amongst them. He notes that sex offenders have higher than average recividy rates. He concludes that the risk that a sex offender may repeat a sex offense outweighs the right the released offender has to privacy. Critics would argue whether the author has weighed his personal opinion while discounting such factors as vigilantism and whether notification actually deters repeat offenses. Etzioni surprises others even further by advocating that released child sex offenders not be permitted to live in communities where children exist.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with each conclusion, most public policy readers should find this an insightful book with coherent yet controversial arguments. It will spark much rich debate.


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