Bennett (2008). The Strategies.

Bennett, C. J. (2008). The Strategies. In The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance (pp. 95-132). MIT Press. Retrieved from

[“Information Politics: Promoting Change by Reporting Facts” (p 96) …]

“There is a long tradition within social movement politics of inducing those in power to do something that they would not otherwise do through the constant reporting of facts and testimony about abuses of power and the resulting harms. … This is not a power politics through which change can be effected through threats, through coercion, or by making life unpleasant for a target group — that is, the ‘leverage politics’ discussed later. This is about the politics of persuasion, about speaking truth to power (Kennedy Cuomo 2005).” (p 96)

“Robert Ellis Smith … published a book called _War Stories_ (1993), a collection of anecdotes by ordinary Americans victimized by invasions of privacy. … It is also a reminder that personal information need not be inherently sensitive for harms to result. Innocuous information in the wrong contexts can lead to severe consequences.” (p 97)

“… many privacy invasions often do not get seen as such. Their effects are more indirect, and only show up when other consequences arise … the privacy advocate has constantly to refute the argument that ‘if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’ The vast majority of citizens go through their daily lives believing that surveillance processes are not directed at them, but at the miscreants and wrongdoers.” (p 97)

“For the privacy advocate, the politics of information is more difficult. It relies upon argumentation about potential consequences. It often involves extrapolations from the experiences of similar surveillance systems in other times and places. Increasingly it involves considerable technical expertise, and sophisticated understandings of the operation of complex public and private organizations.” (p 98)

“Privacy advocates … will talk about ‘getting ahead of the curve’ and of the dangers of reacting to developments after human and financial resources have been devoted to a particular program or technology.” (p 98)

“… there are many ways that se- [page break] curity goals can be met without compromising privacy (Schneier 2004).” (p 98-99)

“Privacy advocates also need to be informed about a number of technical and policy issues beyond that of privacy.” (p 99)

“… the advocacy community needs to make some fundamental decisions about whether to engage at all in the political process or to focus more on the general public.” (p 99)

“… sympathetic journalists are also a source of information for privacy advocates, and can alert them to developments and events of which they may not have been aware. As with every other policy issue, media relations are a two-way street.” (p 100)

“Similar dilemmas arose in Canada at the same time when privacy advocates were invited to take part in a process of negotiating a privacy standard through the Canadian Standards Association. In that case, advocates did participate. Their involvement did succeed in strengthening the resulting code of practice, to the extent that it could form the basis of federal legislation for the private sector (CSA 1996), but the decisions were agonizing.” (p 103)

“Some international bodies have quite transparent mechanisms of consultation. Others are veiled in mystery. This has led to a phenomenon called ‘policy laundering’ referring to the use of international forums as an indirect means of pushing policies that could never win direct approval through the regular domestic political process. A campaign coordinated by the ACLU, Privacy International, and Statewatch, contends that ‘in a rapidly globalizing world, this technique is becoming a central means by which the United States (and other nations) seek to overcome civil liberties objections to privacy-invading policies.’ A major illustration is the use of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) as a forum to advance global standards for travel documents, including the use of biometrics (Hosein 2004).6” (p 104)

“It is commonly recognized that on the Internet ‘code is law’ (Lessig 1999), which can have profound implications for rights and liberties. Technical design decisions can have intended, and unintended, effects upon values such as privacy.” (p 104)

“With the private sector, intrusive practices often only come to light after a technology is deployed or marketed, when intended or unintended consequences for the capture of personal information come to light.” (p 104)

“A technology is developed and introduced and justified in some public interest. It raises obvious privacy implications. Information, both speculative and factual, circulates rapidly around the various privacy-related lists and blogs. The company and the government respond with attempts at reassurance, which fuel further questions and confusion. The information flows tend to be rapid and horizontal.” (p 105)

“Thus, the information politics of privacy advocacy tends not to be about documenting facts of individual abuses, grievances and harms. It tends to be about an early and rapid response strategy that often does not leave time for research into technological capacities, institutional motivations, and public anxieties. … [page break] … Privacy invasions occur when technologies work as intended and when they fail. … (Bennett and Raab 2006, 25-26).” (p 105-106)

[“Symbolic Politics: Connecting with Culture” (p 106) …]

“The presentation and packaging of politics tailored to the needs of a visual media culture is becoming increasingly important for the acquisition and retention of political power in democratic societies. Verbal and nonverbal symbols generate attention and reduce the complexity of political problems and communicate a certain vision of the world. … Every symbol stands for something other than itself, and it also evokes a set of impressions beyond the immediate reference of the language used. … (Graber 1976).” (p 106)

“… Computers, Freedom and Privacy (CFP) conference …” (p 108)

“Humor is also seen as a necessary component of effective privacy advocacy.” (p 112)

“Symbolic politics only is effective when it connects to a broader set of cultural understandings.” (p 113)

[“Accountability Politics: Living Up to the Rules” (p 114) …]

“Figure 4.6b ‘The Desire for Privacy Is Not an Admission of Guilt.’ (Individual-I.Com Web site graphics in the public domain.)” (p 115)

“In Canada, for instance, Pippa Lawson of CIPPIC has lodged a number of complaints under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents [page break] Act (PIPEDA) with the privacy commissioner of Canada. For example, in 2004 she formed the view that Accusearch Inc., an American corporation based in Wyoming, was routinely collecting, using, and disclosing personal information about Canadians through its Web site for inappropriate purposes and without the knowledge and consent of the individuals in question.25 She requested her own file from the company, was refused, and filed a complaint with the privacy commissioner of Canada. She [page break] submitted that Accusearch Inc.’s activities were contrary to PIPEDA and called upon the commissioner to investigate. The commissioner refused, indicating that she did have not have jurisdiction to investigate a company residing in another country. Lawson appealed to the Federal Court, which determined that the commissioner did have jurisdiction and was therefore obliged to investigate the complaint. … 26” (p 114-117)

“… 28 … [page break] … CIPPIC and PI also filed a separate complaint against Canadian banks to the OPC for failure to protect customer information from improper disclosures via the SWIFT network.” (p 117)

“… the privacy laws of the United States. And those laws are derived from the federal constitution (primarily the Fourth Amendment) …” (p 119)

“… FOI requests … organizations like EPIC in the United States and CIPPIC in Canada have developed the strategic skills necessary to target the requests on specific documents rather than broad information categories.” (p 120)

“Opportunities for American privacy advocates to hold the private sector to account have historically been quite limited. There is a lot of U.S. privacy protection law covering private-sector practices, each governing a slice of the U.S. marketplace and each with significant loopholes and limited opportunities to sue for damages.32 U.S. private-sector privacy law has progressed incrementally and sectorally, leaving many areas of the U.S. economy with virtually unlimited abilities to collect, process, and disseminate personal information with impunity.” (p 121)

“… pressure has originated from European advocates and regulators who have tried to enforce Articles 25 and 26 of the EU Data Protection Directive, which states that personal data should not flow out of the European Union unless the receiving jurisdiction can guarantee an ‘adequate level of protection.'” (p 121)

“But opinions differ on the effectiveness of FTC enforcement. Bob Gellman, a Washington privacy consultant, asserts that ‘FTC fines are just the cost of doing business, and then only if you get caught. Since the odds are small, it is a legitimate business decision to ignore the FTC. If you get caught, you hire an ex-FTC staffer and negotiate a cheap fine.'” (p 122)

[“Leverage Politics: ‘Naming and Shaming'” (p 123) …]

“Leverage politics assumes that the group has some power and that it can get what it wants from those in authority by threatening some cost if there is no change from the status quo. … professional groups and labor unions (Olsen 1971). … The threat of the withdrawal of labor that is of vital interest to a national economy has historically been leveraged in order to obtain increased wages and benefits, better working conditions, and so on.” (p 123)

“Privacy, like other civil liberties and human rights, is a public good. If privacy advocates are successful in securing more effective privacy laws, then everyone in society potentially benefits regardless of whether or not they are a member of the organization.” (p 123)

“At the same time that the privacy advocacy network does not have resources in a traditional sense, they do have a powerful issue, and one that has continued to resonate with the mass public. Very few public or private organizations will say that they are against privacy and will probably not want to be regarded in public opinion as an opponent of the issue. Thus, the leverage politics of privacy advocacy is almost entirely about embarrassment, the loss of reputation, or what some commentators have called the ‘mobilization of shame’ (Drinan 2001).” (p 123)

“The fact that a company is the potential subject of a complaint to a data protection authority, or regulatory agency, can be used by privacy advocates as leverage. If a questionable practice comes to light as a result of a consumer complaint, a whistleblower, or just through informal communications within the network, then in most cases the group will inform the organization and try to resolve without publicity.” (p 124)

“CASPIAN followed this success with an attempted boycott of Gillette, after it was announced that this company was going to install RFID-enabled ‘smart shelves’ [page break] that would sense when consumers picked up razor blade packets, trigger a camera shot of each customer, and relay those photos to store security.” (p 126-127)

“… ethical dilemmas, and questions about whether advocates should be promoting the privacy cause by invading the privacy of others.” (p 128)

Leverage politics does involve an expansion of the scope of conflict, however. It rests upon the principle that those with power normally have an interest in privatizing the fight and narrowing the terrain upon which conflicts are conducted. Those without power normally wish to expand and socialize the scope of the conflict, because they need allies (Schattschneider 1960). Politics is therefore not only about interests and issues but about the breadth of the political terrain on which they are fought. Leverage politics in the name of privacy protection tends to be constrained at every turn. … The mobilization of shame in the interest of expanding the [page break] scope of a privacy conflict is a sanction that needs to be used sparingly, and with careful considerations of the consequences.” (p 128-129)

[“Conclusion: Strategic Dilemmas” (p 129)]

“Resistance strategies are, however, more common at an individual level. A nice example is the retired city councilor from Kingston, Ontario, who paid his entire $230 Visa bill in 985 installments, often in pennies, to protest the outsourcing of credit-card processing to the United States.46 … Gary Marx … goes on to analyze eleven ‘generic techniques of neutralization’ that are in fact aided by the logistical and economic limitations, contradictions, and gaps within surveillance systems. There are a range of moves that individuals both within, and outside, organizations can employ in order to subvert, distort, block, mask, or counter the surveillance system. … (Marx 2003).” (p 129)

“John Perry Barlow … (quoted in Li 2003, 70): ‘Politics is simply the art of the possible. If you’re a purist, you go down to defeat almost every time, and the things you care about ultimately suffer. Maybe your honor and dignity will remain intact, but the environment or civil liberties or whatever your cause is won’t. …'” (p 130)

Notable References

  • Bennett, Colin J., and Charles D. Raab. The Governance of Privacy: Policy Instruments in Global Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006.
  • Canadian Standards Association (CSA). Model Code for the Protection of Personal Information, CAN/CSA-Q0830-96, Rexdale: CSA, 1996.
  • Drinan, Robert. The Mobilization of Shame: A World View of Human Rights. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.
  • Graber, Doris A. Verbal Behavior and Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976.
  • Hosein, Gus. “The Sources of Laws: Policy Dynamics in a Digital and Terrorized World.” Information Society 20, no. 3 (2004): 187-199.
  • Keck, Margaret, E., and Kathryn Sikkink. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
  • Kennedy Cuomo, Kerry. Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World. New York: Umbrage Editions, 2005.
  • Lessig, Lawrence. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books, 1999.
  • Schneier, Bruce. Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World. Indianapolis: Wiley, 2004.
  • Schattschneider, Elmer. The Semi-Sovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960.
  • Smith, Robert E. War Stories: Anecdotes of Persons Victimized by Invasions of Privacy. Providence, R.I.: Privacy Journal, 1993.


6. See the Policy Laundering Project,

20. “Surveillance Campaign,” American Civil Liberties Union,

26. “PIPEDA Complaints,” Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic,

28. “PI Launches Campaign to Suspend Unlawful Activities of Finance Giant,” Privacy International, June 28, 2006,[347]=x-347-538985.

32. The Gramm-Leach-Bliley law covering financial institutions, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Video Rentals legislation, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and so on.

46. Sinclair Stewart, “Privacy Protestor Pays Visa Bill with Pennies,” Globe and Mail, November 23, 2005.

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