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Privacy: A Very Short Introduction by Raymond Wacks

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Published on Jan 14, 2010

BOOK REVIEW


PRIVACY: A Very Short Introduction

By Raymond Wacks

ISBN: 978-0-19-955653-3

Oxford University Press

www.oup.co.uk


ARE YOU BEING WATCHED?

An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers

Raymond Wacks has created an in-depth exploration, in only 150 pages, of the increasingly complex and controversial subject of privacy. This new addition to the excellent Very Short Introduction series from OUP of pocket-sized books on academic subjects is most welcome- short enough that is, for beleaguered commuters to read on the train, or, say, harassed lawyers to read in the courtroom corridor with 6 chapters, an annex and detailed biographical references.

This book is one of over 200 small-format books in this admirable series which covers everything from African history to Wittgenstein and world trade. Written by experts, theyre intended as a stimulating and accessible way into a new subject and very accessible they are, Professor Wackss Privacy being a prime example.

As he states in the Preface, Wackss association with privacy and data protection has been from a legal perspective; the law, in his words, being an indispensable instrument in the protection of privacy. The subject however encompasses other dimensions -- social, cultural political and psychological. The authors stated aim is to consider these—and several other -- forces that shape our understanding of this challenging concept.

Speaking of law and lawyers, there is, to our knowledge, no more erudite and persuasive an advocate for protecting privacy than Raymond Wacks. If you ever find yourself in a debate on privacy versus free speech, this is the succinct yet thoroughly researched source of some very effective arguments in favour of privacy.

These arguments are all the more convincing in the light of recent technological developments, which worryingly, can be misused, including electronic surveillance, biometrics, CCTV, ID cards, (ID cards? Hate em!) ubiquitous RFID codes on various plastic-y cards, increasingly sophisticated developments in DNA -- and the entire Internet -- and so on and this list is by no means exhaustive.

Against all this, the tension between privacy and free speech escalates. The danger with any surfeit of privacy legislation is that, like any new development, it can get out of hand. What Dr Johnson might have termed yelps for privacy often come from individuals, or institutions ranting about transparency then ranting in favour of privacy to cover up things theyd rather you didnt know about.

The view is that we all should have the right to privacy within reason, but when privacy triumphs over freedom of speech, miscreants everywhere get the freedom to do what they want without fear of the pesky press snooping around and finding out. Those with dictatorial tendencies Stalin, Mao, Richard Nixon loved their privacy with a passion. But then again, we ordinary folk treasure privacy too, although not necessarily at the expense of other freedoms.

So what to do? The ideal answer, suggests Wacks, is explicit, carefully drafted legislation that creates civil and criminal sanctions for seriously offensive, intentional and reckless intrusion into an individuals solitude or seclusion and the unauthorized publication of personal information. This sounds sensible, even though you might timidly ask, unauthorized by whom?

In all, however, Wacks has made a valuable, reasoned and authoritative contribution to the ongoing debate that continues to rage around this thorny subject- the question remains: are you being watched when you read this very short introduction?

ISBN: 978-0-19-955653-3

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