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Colin J. Bennett

Colin Bennett is Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. He is the author of The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance (MIT Press, 2008) and coauthor (with Charles Raab) of The Governance of Privacy: Policy Instruments in Global Perspective (updated paperback edition, MIT Press, 2006).

Titles by This Author

Resisting the Spread of Surveillance

Today, personal information is captured, processed, and disseminated in a bewildering variety of ways, and through increasingly sophisticated, miniaturized, and distributed technologies: identity cards, biometrics, video surveillance, the use of cookies and spyware by Web sites, data mining and profiling, and many others. In The Privacy Advocates, Colin Bennett analyzes the people and groups around the world who have risen to challenge the most intrusive surveillance practices by both government and corporations. Bennett describes a network of self-identified privacy advocates who have emerged from civil society—without official sanction and with few resources, but surprisingly influential.

A number of high-profile conflicts in recent years have brought this international advocacy movement more sharply into focus. Bennett is the first to examine privacy and surveillance not from a legal, political, or technical perspective but from the viewpoint of these independent activists who have found creative ways to affect policy and practice. Drawing on extensive interviews with key informants in the movement, he examines how they frame the issue and how they organize, who they are, and what strategies they use. He also presents a series of case studies that illustrate how effective their efforts have been, including conflicts over key-escrow encryption (which allows the government to read encrypted messages), online advertising through third-party cookies that track users across different Web sites, and online authentication mechanisms such as the short-lived Microsoft Passport. Finally, Bennett considers how the loose coalitions of the privacy network could develop into a more cohesive international social movement.

Policy Instruments in Global Perspective

Privacy protection, according to Colin Bennett and Charles Raab, involves politics and public policy as much as it does law and technology. Moreover, the protection of our personal information in a globalized, borderless world means that privacy-related policies are inextricably interdependent. In this updated paperback edition of The Governance of Privacy Bennett and Raab analyze a broad range of privacy policy instruments available to contemporary advanced industrial states, from government regulations and transnational regimes to self-regulation and privacy-enhancing technologies. They consider two possible dynamics of privacy regulation—a "race to the bottom," with competitive deregulation by countries eager to attract global investment in information technology, versus "a race to the top," with the progressive establishment of global privacy standards.

 

Bennett and Raab begin by discussing the goals of privacy protection, the liberal and individualist assumptions behind it, and the neglected relationship between privacy and social equity. They describe and evaluate different policy instruments, including the important 1995 Directive on Data Protection from the European Union, as well as the general efficacy of the "top-down" statutory approach and self-regulatory and technological alternatives to it. They evaluate the interrelationships of these policy instruments and their position in a global framework of regulation and policy by state and non-state actors. And finally, they consider whether all of this policy activity at international, national, and corporate levels necessarily means higher levels of privacy protection.