Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Editor's Comment

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Editor's Comment

Article excerpt

Americans are not likely to hear much about the issue of privacy in this year's presidential election, and for good reason. Even the specialists and advocates are still struggling to comprehend the many ways in which new information-related technologies are altering the boundaries between self and society. The changes are occurring in a wide variety of settings--in cyberspace, on the job, at home, even on the streets--and at a rapid pace. Few of the questions they raise allow for straightforward answers. We may reflexively say, for example, that a person's medical and genetic records should enjoy absolute protection--but even if the person poses a threat to public health? Even if the person turns up unconscious in a hospital emergency room?

It would be a mistake to think of such dilemmas as isolated questions of policy. In historical terms, privacy is a luxury good. It is a product of political democracy--explicitly recognized as a right by the U.S. Supreme Court only in 1965--that has been given shape by culture and affluence. …

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