New encyclopedia covers privacy topics
What do garbage, sodomy, voyeurism, private parts and gossip have in common? All are entries in the new two-volume Encyclopedia of Privacy from Greenwood Press. You can find more details about this publication at www.greenwood.com
catalog/GR3477.aspx. The editor of the encyclopedia is William Staples, a professor of sociology at the University of Kansas.
I must disclose right away that I wrote three of the encyclopedia's entries (including the ones for fair information practices and health privacy). I also made suggestions to the editor about content and potential authors, but I have no financial or other stake in the book.
Reflecting the broad scope of and interest in privacy, the authors of the various entries are from many disciplines. To be sure, plenty of lawyers and law school professors contributed, but technologists, sociologists, criminologists, business professors, scientists, political scientists, historians, economists and advocates for various causes also are represented. I recognize some of the authors, but many are new to me. This indicates that the editor went well beyond the usual suspects to find expertise.
As you would expect, the contents cover the waterfront of American privacy. The encyclopedia does not merely provide a quick reference for novices. It also will help those who deal with privacy matters routinely and need a quick refresher on a particular subject, leading court cases or a statutory citation.
Need a summary of what the Supreme Court said in important wiretapping cases? You can read the wiretapping entry or look up Olmstead v. United States and Katz v. United States. The encyclopedia includes about 50 cases touching on various aspects of privacy.
The encyclopedia's range will help those with significant privacy expertise. Can a company install a camera in the employee locker room? The entry on restrooms and dressing rooms isn't a substitute for expert consultation or reading a 50-page law review article, but it provides basic principles in less than a page. It may be just what you need to know before going to a meeting.
The Driver's Privacy Protection Act is one of the major federal privacy laws with its own entry. In a page and a half, the entry describes the act, its history, the Shelby Amendment and the case law. It's just the thing to read before discussing access limits on public records with your boss. There is also an entry on public records.
There are no main entries on direct marketing or direct mail, but telemarketing, transaction-generated data, data brokers, data mining, do-not-call registry and spam are all main topics, as is the U.S. Postal Service. By the way, a business school marketing professor - and not a privacy advocate - wrote the telemarketing entry.
Technology is well represented. Entries cover computers, the Internet, cryptography and global positioning systems. Some older technologies, like two-way mirrors and pen registers, also are discussed.
The encyclopedia has main entries for some relevant institutions. You won't be surprised to find entries for the FBI and the CIA, but there are entries for the House Un-American Activities Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Security Agency. Another main entry covers privacy-advocacy organizations.
In his preface, the editor highlights the essays on the philosophical foundations of privacy and on the definition of privacy. These long entries, by professors Judith DeCew and Anita Allen, are useful introductions to the general topic.
It is easy to criticize a work of this scope for what is and isn't included. I am surprised by the lack of an entry covering statistics and privacy or research privacy. Some aspects of these subjects are covered here and there. For example, there is an entry on the census, but more could have been done. International privacy issues receive little attention, though the European Union data protection directive receives significant coverage. Maybe there will be a demand for an international edition.
The encyclopedia has a good index, plus a topic list of entries that lets the reader find which entries fall under major themes. It also includes a chronology of selected privacy-related events. The author of each entry is identified, and the encyclopedia includes a short biography of each author. My only complaint is that there is no central list showing which article was written by which author.
I highly recommend the Encyclopedia of Privacy to anyone with a professional interest in privacy. It deserves a place on your bookshelf or in your organization's library.
Another new item of note is the 2006 supplement to the Compilation of State and Federal Privacy Laws published by Robert Ellis Smith. One constant struggle in Washington involves federal preemption of state laws. Though this fight is by no means confined to privacy, preemption is a major privacy battleground. Much innovative privacy legislation comes from the states. Federal legislation tends to follow after enough states have acted by enacting laws with different requirements.
States have been particularly active in enacting laws on identity theft, medical records, credit freezes, security breach notifications, spam, gathering telephone-calling records by pretext and use of Social Security numbers. You can learn more details about Mr. Smith's compilation of laws at www.privacyjournal.net/work1.htm.