A Communitarian Perspective on Privacy

May 13, 2000

Internet Privacy and the Stattoric or by Paul Schwartz raises many issues on many levels, ranging from questions of rhetoric or law to matters of sociology of privacy or communitarian philosophy. In this commentary, however, I will focus on a few specific areas, as it is impossible to do justice to all of his arguments, nor do I have the technical legal background to do so.

Social Norms: Internalization, Persuasion, and History

May 13, 2000

Legal scholars have rediscovered social norms. For decades, the insights and findings of law and society(1) were largely ignored, and law and economics--which mostly ignores social norms--was all the rage. In the past few years, however, new powerful essays about social norms have begun appearing in law reviews.(2) As Richard Epstein wrote recently, "the subject of social norms is once again hot."(3)

Debating the Societal Effects of the Internet: Connecting with the World

May 13, 2000

One can readily sympathize with Professors Norman Nie and Lutz Erbring, the investigator and co-investigator of a recent study on the social consequences of the internet conducted by the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society. Like many scholars before them who have conducted extensive surveys, their results at first seemed rather self-evident and dull. They spent much effort and resources to reach 4,113 adults in 2,689 households. They analyzed their data and came up with such findings as the internet is used more for e-mail (90%) than banking (12%), more people use the internet for surfing (69%) than for trading stocks (7%), and those who use it extensively spend less time in traffic (14% of heavy users).

Our frenetic electronic life

May 08, 2000

At the entrance to the library of my university, a sign warns: "Turn off your cellphones or put them on silent ring." Some blessed coffee shops display a cellphone in a red circle with a line through it, indicating that the buzzards are barred. Many performances in concert halls and theaters (in the United States) regularly start with a warning to turn off pagers.

The New Enemy of Privacy

May 01, 2000

“The New Enemy of Privacy,” Challenge, Vol. 43, No. 2 (May/June 2000), 91-106.
The evidence presented in the following pages points to a conclusion that is both obvious and often ignored, namely, currently the main danger to privacy for people who live in free democratic societies comes from the private sector, not the government; Big Bucks, not Big Brother. This is highlighted by the sources of systematic authorized abuse of personal information, as distinct from occasional unauthorized use of such information by some rogue employee or merchant; it is further supported by an examination of the line-up of those who oppose new measures seeking to protect privacy in general and medical privacy in particular.

Balancing Privacy, Public Good

April 27, 2000

“Balancing Privacy, Public Good” USA Today (April 27, 2000), page 17A.
If you are keen that no one sees what you look like under whatever you wear, you'd better avoid the airports of New York City, Miami, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles -- and soon most others.
Before you exclaim, "Come on, even George Orwell . . . ," here are the bare facts: The U.S. Customs Service is introducing new X-ray machines that see through cloth and reveal whether people are concealing guns or contraband.

Moral Dialogues in Public Debates

April 13, 2000

Communitarians argue that democratic societies require a core of shared values. To be legitimate a democracy must be something more than a procedure that allows individuals with different values to work out shared policies. The question is, what is the most effective way for communities to collectively formulate shared values?

Toward a Theory of Public Ritual

March 13, 2000

Given that holidays both reflect a society's attributes and serve to modify these attributes, they are a valuable tool for a macro-sociological analysis. This paper proceeds by examining Durkheim's well-known contributions on rituals and advancing theoretical ideas on how these might be modified, seeking to develop a theory of holidays.

Census should reflect land rich in blended citizens

March 02, 2000

Condemning Austria's inclusion of an extreme right-wing party in its government is fully justified -- and woefully insufficient. Censure by the European Community is welcome -- and utterly inadequate. Anybody who believes that we can embarrass or pressure the Austrians into treating their xenophobic party as a pariah had better think again.

Americans Could Teach Austrians About Diversity

February 14, 2000

Condemning Austria's inclusion of an extreme right-wing party in its government is fully justified -- and woefully insufficient. Censure by the European Community is welcome -- and utterly inadequate. Anybody who believes that we can embarrass or pressure the Austrians into treating their xenophobic party as a pariah had better think again.

E-Communities Build New Ties, but Ties That Bind

February 10, 2000

“E-Communities Build New Ties, but Ties That Bind” The New York Times (February 10, 2000), page E7.
No subject lends itself to a false dichotomy like that of virtual and real communities. But the two are not opposites, not exclusionary and not necessarily good for the same things.

Our medical records are about to get more privacy

January 25, 2000

“Our medical records are about to get more privacy” USA Today, (January 25, 2000), page 15A.
I was at a Johns Hopkins Hospital outpatient clinic talking to a genetic counselor because, as an Ashkenazi Jew, I belong to one of those groups whose members tend to carry a gene predisposing them to a specific genetic illness. In my case, it was colon cancer, which had killed my father. What the counselor told me was stunning -- even though it had to do with my privacy, not my health.

Debunking Israel

January 17, 2000

“Debunking Israel” The Weekly Standard, (January 17, 2000), pages 33-35.
In preperation for Thanksgiving, Public School 87 in New York City teaches fourth graders what it felt like to be a Native American when the Pilgrims arrived.

The Internet Versus the Sabbath

January 01, 2000

The clash between the so-called liberating forces of globalization and the conservative forces of tradition came face to face last May. On May 27, 1999 the board of the National Association of Securities Dealers (the parent organization of Nasdaq) announced that it planned to open an evening trading session for stocks between 5:30 pm and 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Nasdaq president, Richard Ketchum added, "there may come a day when we trade 24 hours." He did not say that the "24/7 week," as they say in Silicon Valley, is already here. One can now trade twenty-four hours, seven days a week (including holidays), on the Internet.

When Does Global Good Outweigh Our Own Sovereignty?

December 08, 1999

One theme united many of the divergent groups that participated in the "Battle in Seattle" last week: As they saw it, the United States was, again, sacrificing its sovereignty to satisfy yet another international organization. And President Clinton confirmed their worst suspicions when he stated that he was looking forward to the day when the World Trade Organization (WTO) would be able to impose sanctions on nations.