Privacy activists have convinced Americans that their personal information is under attack, according to sociologist Amitai Etzioni. As a result, he says, policymakers sometimes place privacy ahead of more pressing concerns such as public health and safety.

In his latest book, "The Limits of Privacy" (Basic Books, 1999), Mr. Etzioni argues that there is a "paradox" in the privacy debate, with the principle of privacy often being "privileged over the common good."

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