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The Privacy "Movement"

posted by:Marc Rotenberg // 11:29 PM // July 19, 2005 // Digital Activism and Advocacy

So, I am often asked whether there is a privacy "movement," like the environmental movement or the civil rights movement. The short answer is "no." Privacy is too diffuse, there are too many issues, and too much change to find the clear historical milestones and political achievements that helped to define earlier movements. Still, it is worth taking a moment to recognize some of the people who have had enormous success bringing public attention to privacy concerns. At the top of my list would be Simon Davies, the founder of Privacy International. It is hard to say exactly what makes Simon the brilliant organizer that he is. He is wonderful with the press, lacks pretense, and enjoys drinking with his friends when he is not battling Big Brother. Credit Simon with the ingenious Big Brother Awards and an extraordinary campaign taking place right now in Britain against the national ID card. Many international organizations have large budgets, fancy offices, and a decent cappuccino machine. Privacy International has Simon Davies, Gus Hosein, Dave Banisar, and a few other privacy stalwarts. If history is smart, it will side with them.

There are a lot of people I should know by name but I don't. I will say that when I sit down each year to review the draft of our annual Privacy and Human Rights report, I am struck by the courage and the decency of people all around the world who find a way to express their views about privacy, to join with others, and to make real political change. I think about teachers in South Korea who opposed a database on schoolchildren, activists in Peru who stopped the installation of camera surveillance, protesters in Germany who stood up against RFID, and local officials in Japan who objected to the creation of a national ID card.

Maybe there are many privacy movements. And maybe that is as it should be.

Good night. I'll be back tomorrow.


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I get your point but I guess it depends on how you define movement. Seems to me that democratic action is episodic, and people often self-organize around privacy issues at the grass roots. The Canadian equivalent to Germany's 1983 census protest was when 60,000 Canadians filed access to information requests to protest the federal government's longitudinal labour file (a database containing on average 600 pages of data on every Canadian and then some - they placed dead Canadians under surveillance too, for good measure ;-)). In the Canadian context, that's a lot of "movement" to build on, or at least to feel hopeful about.

Posted by: Val Steeves at July 22, 2005 10:42 AM

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