Cover image for Legislating privacy : technology, social values, and public policy
Legislating privacy : technology, social values, and public policy
Regan, Priscilla M.
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Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [1995]

Physical Description:
xix, 310 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm

Format :


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JC596.2.U5 R44 1995 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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While technological threats to personal privacy have proliferated rapidly, legislation designed to protect privacy has been slow and incremental. In this study of legislative attempts to reconcile privacy and technology, Priscilla Regan examines congressional policy making in three key areas: computerized databases, wiretapping, and polygraph testing. In each case, she argues, legislation has represented an unbalanced compromise benefiting those with a vested interest in new technology over those advocating privacy protection. Legislating Privacy explores the dynamics of congressional policy formulation and traces the limited response of legislators to the concept of privacy as a fundamental individual right. According to Regan, we will need an expanded understanding of the social value of privacy if we are to achieve greater protection from emerging technologies such as Caller ID and genetic testing. Specifically, she argues that a recognition of the social importance of privacy will shift both the terms of the policy debate and the patterns of interest-group action in future congressional activity on privacy issues.

Originally published in 1995.

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Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Much as privacy has been an almost uniquely American concern, technology offers unique new ways of violating personal privacy. Regan (public affairs, George Mason Univ.) examines congressional policymaking regarding privacy in three areas: information services (computerized databases), wiretapping, and polygraph testing. She has two goals: to explain how policy is formulated and adopted and to examine the reasons why the public often fails to support legislative attempts at protecting privacy. While other books have been written on specific aspects of privacy, such as Alan Westin's Privacy and Freedom (LJ 5/1/67) and David O'Brien's Privacy, Law, and Public Policy (Praeger, 1979), Regan believes that these works fail to identify a concept of privacy upon which legislation can be effectively grounded. She argues that we err when we define privacy by emphasizing the individual's interests and rights. Regan suggests, instead, that privacy serves common public interests and that recognition of these shared interests would form the basis of stronger public policy. While this is an academic study, developed out of Regan's doctoral dissertation and her research interests, it is recommended to an educated general audience.‘Jerry E. Stephens, U.S. Court of Appeals Lib., Oklahoma City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

First among this book's several strengths is its provocative thesis: casting privacy as an individual right begs for a balancing act by legislators and jurists that is sure to benefit business and governmental elites. The latter can appeal to organizational needs and public values whereas privacy advocates are stuck with an "individualistic idea of privacy [which] does not add to self-interest; it merely restates it." Second is Regan's focus on technology as the factor introducing a tangible threat to privacy and simultaneously defining the type of privacy threatened. Regan discusses how technology thus "changed or influenced ideas and interests, brought new players into policy communities, and energized policy entrepreneurs." Third is the ease with which Regan moves from philosophical and legal dimensions of privacy, to normative issues in democratic theory, to the dispute in congressional policy studies over the "politics of ideas." Fourth is Regan's conclusion: "interests" will continue to win out over "ideas" unless privacy is recast as a public, common, and collective value. Drawing on pragmatist, liberal, and communitarian critiques, as well as the collective goods literature, she insists that abandoning the individualistic premises of privacy would "result in a higher level of protection of individual privacy than would be likely if the goal was to protect only individual interests." Upper-division undergraduate through faculty. D. A. Morris; University of Virginia