reflect political pressure from a public distressed in general about unwelcome exposure of their private lives. Public concerns about privacy, and pressures for its protection, seem closely related to episodic “horror stories” about violations of privacy (at least violations perceived to be egregious). On an ongoing basis, scholars of public policy often view the development of policy as a struggle between interests, and the history of policy regarding privacy illustrates this point clearly. Privacy is not pursued or defended by public policy makers in the United States as a fundamental right to be protected. Instead it is framed as one of a number of interests that have to be weighed on the scales of social worth. As a result, the scope of privacy concerns has been narrowed to a limited array of individual and personal interests.

For example, Priscilla Regan notes that public policy regulation can serve the interests of the nation or the society for the collective good. She underscores the distinction between privacy policy as a struggle over ideas and privacy policy as a struggle between interests.2 Because the idea of privacy is so broad and complex as to defy specification, privacy policy has rarely been pursued on the basis of privacy as a fundamental value. Unlike the values of “competition” and “efficiency” that have emerged as compelling rationales for the pursuit of a broad range of policy outcomes, privacy policies have been far more narrowly drawn. Some of those opposed to the extension or reinforcement of privacy rights have tended to argue that privacy was the enemy of efficiency; respecting privacy imposed costs on actors and agents in ways that could not be justified in economic terms. This was nearly always the case when opponents of privacy restraint sought to justify the use of some new technology of surveillance that was supposed to enhance security and reduce fraud, waste, and abuse in the delivery of goods and services.3 From the perspective of business, opposition to measures to enhance individual privacy was often cast in terms of unnecessarily increasing the regulatory burden of compliance. Because the value of economic efficiency had emerged as the dominant rationale for policy choice in the decade between 1974 and 1984,4 much of the legislation that was presented as preserving privacy interests actually helped to normalize a set of routine institutional practices that narrowed the scope of privacy’s reach.5

One way of framing the interests at stake is according to the distribu-


Priscilla M. Regan, Legislating Privacy: Technology, Social Values, and Public Policy, University of North Carolina Press, 1995.


David Lyon, Surveillance Society: Monitoring Everyday Life, Open University Press, 2001.


Regan identified seven bills passed in this decade that explicitly traded privacy interests against expected gains in efficiency. See Regan, Legislating Privacy, 1995, p. 88.


See Oscar H. Gandy, Jr., The Panoptic Sort: A Political Economy of Personal Information, Westview Press, 1994, pp. 209-211, for a discussion of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1998.

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