Colin Bennett’s ‘The Privacy Advocates’

In 2008, Canadian political science Professor Colin Bennett published his book ‘The Privacy Advocates: Resisting the Spread of Surveillance’ (MIT Press, 260 pp.). It was based on interviews with scores of advocates worldwide, including several from APF.

This web-page provide extracts from Bennett’s book about the APF, in order to provide a flavour of the international perspective on the organisation.

One of the strongest national privacy groups exists in Australia. The Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) “is the primary association dedicated to protecting the privacy rights of Australians. The Foundation aims to focus public attention on emerging issues that pose a threat to the freedom and privacy of Australians. The Foundation has led the fight to defend the right of individuals to control their personal information and to be free of excessive intrusions” (pp. 19-20, quote from this site).

” … Privacy International (PI), founded in 1990, as a “watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations” … was the brainchild of Simon Davies, who earlier had worked on the Australia Card campaign and was a leading figure in the Australian Privacy Foundation” (p. 28).

” … the inspiration for PI came in part from the successful opposition to the Australia Card and subsequent formation of the Australian Privacy Foundation. APF remains one of the only national organizations dedicated solely to the protection of privacy rights. And it too has always been a small organization with a big reputation. It was started in 1988 [sic: July 1987] during the Australia Card campaign by a few experts who had been involved in the issue, either in academic capacities, through legal or journalistic work or through their association with the New South Wales Privacy Committee. APF continued after the defeat of the Australia Card, initially to ensure the passage of effective privacy legislation for the public sector. [That is consistent with the history provided on this site.]

“Since then, a core and relatively stable group of advocates has consistently and expertly advanced the cause and gained respect with business and government. They were particularly influential in securing effective credit reporting legislation in 1990, and leading the opposition to a self-regulatory option for privacy protection in the private sector in the late 1990s. In 1993, a parallel and broader organization, the Australian Privacy Charter Council, launched the Australian Privacy Charter, a strong statement of privacy principles, which influenced the later development of national privacy principles for the private sector and was later adopted as APF’s policy constitution. More recently, APF has played a key role in the opposition to the government’s proposals for Australia Card II, the ‘Access Card’ (p. 30).

“On a few occasions, an advocacy community will make a decision to boycott an entire process in protest against the underlying motives. In Australia in the late 1990s, there were several attempts by the government to introduce self-regulatory solutions for private-sector privacy protection. APF essentially boycotted the process in the belief that these efforts were devised to avoid legislation, rather than paving the way for it. Such stands can only be taken when an organization is sufficiently cohesive, and when it has the credibility to make the wider case in the public arena” (p. 103).

“The opposition [to the Australia Card] was framed squarely in terms of ‘privacy’ and the various opposition groups and personnel were embraced by the umbrella organization of APF, giving the organization a real boost. It inspired the key actors and cemented some close and enduring ties and friendships. No other national privacy organization has begun with such publicity and success. APF then earned a reputation as a force in Australian politics far in excess of its membership or resources” (p. 139).

“The issue of an Australian national identity card resurfaced in the post-9/11 climate of antiterrorism measures. … APF again played an important leadership coordination role. … [In the case of the Access Card,] APF was one of several groups in opposition. … The torch has passed to a younger generation of privacy advocates, such as Anna Johnston, even though some of the original campaigners from the 1980s, such as Roger Clarke and Graham Greenleaf, are still very active. Clarke explains “A nucleus gained self belief, and that nucleus grew. We are now 20 years on, but that self belief has been projected through the ‘grey beards’ that emanated from 1987 and that has carried through into the contemporary scene. So the younger members carry that kind of confidence (almost swagger) when they walk into the Minister’s office”” (pp. 139-140).

“A funny collection of people” – former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke on the Australian Privacy Foundation (p. 169).

“The Internet does not cause contemporary activists to organize in non-hierarchical, distributed and flexible ways. But it does reinforce the existing biases of many contemporary activists, who want to get things done, rather than worry about rules and organization. Here’s Roger Clarke on APF: “Organizations like ours … do not sit there with mission statements, and nice long lists and tick things off and allocate resources. Organizations like ours get out and do things. Movers do things. Certainly from time to time, we need to put out a call ‘can anybody handle this one?’. And more often than not, somebody manages to put their hand up”. If privacy advocates can reach their objectives without the prerequisites of group organization and aggregation, then that is the overwhelming preference. The Internet clearly facilitates that preference” (p. 190).