insists that the collective interests must prevail. Protecting the privacy of individuals makes it harder for the society to enforce laws and ensure good public health, and it makes the overall economy less efficient. In this view, privacy has a negative value to the overall community in many settings, even if it has some value to individuals within that society. Because people tend to see only their own point of view, privacy has historically been seen to be valuable. Etzioni’s view holds that if the price society sometimes pays for individual privacy were clearer, privacy would be given less importance by society.

Similar arguments are set forth by Anita Allen-Castellito, who suggests that individuals are “accountable” to a number of “others” including employers, family members, and in some instances, members of a racial or ethnic group.16 Accountability means that we may reasonably be expected to “answer for” our behavior to others with whom we have a meaningful relationship. In her view, we are not entitled to say “it is none of your business” when some people inquire into our reasons for acting in some way that might place others, or the relationship or the person we care about, at risk.

There are also communitarians who hold that privacy is actually of value to society as a whole. While it is true that the lack of information about the individual required by privacy may have drawbacks in the areas of public health, law enforcement, and the economy, it is argued that privacy is needed to ensure the best results to society in all of these areas. Without privacy, for example, public health authorities would obtain less accurate reporting of disease and be less sure that those who have communicable diseases would seek treatment. While privacy may impede law enforcement, it is also required to insulate citizens from governmental tyranny and to ensure the general health of liberal democracy. Citizens with faith in government and law enforcement are more likely to be cooperative when they perceive that power is limited by decent rules. While aspects of the economy might be more efficient if there were no privacy, such a state of affairs would favor those able to obtain the most information, tending to ensure that unfair distributions of wealth and privilege would be perpetuated.

As is often the case with ethical and philosophical discussions, the value of these debates over privacy is not so much that we can find an answer to our questions, but rather that the issues becomes clearer and more precisely identified.

For example, the descriptive debate concerning the nature of privacy shows the difficulty of saying just what privacy is in a single simplistic


Anita L. Allen-Castellito, Why Privacy Isn’t Everything: Feminist Reflections on Personal Accountability, Rowman and Littlefield, Oxford, 2003.

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