law are in fact the behavioral norm31 and alert citizens to the fact that their privacy rights (e.g., those granted under the Privacy Act) may have been infringed. Members of public interest groups, or outsiders to the debate, play a key role in “taking the discussion public” by amplifying public concerns about institutional practices that they oppose.

A number of public interest organizations have established a significant presence within the policy environment as supporters of what they define as the public interest in privacy, and a reasonable argument can be made to suggest that very little in the way of regulatory pro-privacy policy would exist if it were not for the efforts of privacy advocates.32

General organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have long been active in pressing both in court and in lawmaking and regulatory bodies for protection of a range of personal freedoms, privacy among them. The ACLU’s concerns continue unabated, indeed intensified, especially in the period after September 11, 2001, and other broad mission organizations have now entered the fray, including some that have found common ground with the ACLU on privacy issues regarding government access to personal information despite being in opposite corners in many other areas.

The most dramatic change in public advocacy groups is that, within the past decade or less, the field has now become far more crowded by the entry of a host of influential specialized groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Americans for Computer Privacy, the Online Privacy Alliance, the Center for Democracy and Technology, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. A number of these organizations emerged into prominence during what Alan Westin identifies as the “third era of privacy development.”

These organizations attempt to influence the policy process through a variety of means, including the mobilization of public opinion. Policy advocates attempt to raise public awareness and concern about privacy by supplying sympathetic reporters and columnists with examples of corporate or government malfeasance, or with references to the “horror stories” of individuals who have been the direct or indirect victims of privacy invasion.33 These stories help to raise the level of concern that is then reflected in the periodic surveys of public opinion that get reported


Joseph Turow, “Americans and Online Privacy: The System Is Broken,” a report from the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 2003.


Bennett and Raab, The Governance of Privacy, 2003, pp. 42-43.


Timothy E. Cook, Making Laws and Making News: Media Strategies in the U.S. House of Representatives, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., 1989.

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