James B. Rule ‘All politics is local’, goes the familiar wisdom among American politicos. The chapters of this book often seem to support this adage where the politics of privacy are concerned. In the seven countries depicted here – as in many others – the emergence and evolution of privacy as a public issue has often been idiosyncratic, to say the least. In some cases, it has turned on events and episodes that one cannot imagine happening anywhere else. True, one can identify an archetypal state of mind underlying all demands for privacy protection. This is the gut-level indignation that flares on learning that outside interests have gained access to, or use of, what we consider ‘our own’ information. Regardless of whether the outsiders are the police, the tax authorities, credit reporters or direct marketers, this core reaction goes, ‘how did they get my information?’ And, ‘what gives them the right to act on this private data, without my permission?’ Yet we have seen that very different situations – very different juxtapositions of individual lives and institutional demands – trigger such reactions in different countries. Forms and uses of personal data that would fan the fires of public protest in one country meet with routine acquiescence elsewhere. Institutions whose efforts to acquire and use personal data are accepted without note in one setting spark bitter controversy in other national settings. And these differing ‘flash points’ leave their marks on privacy regimes prevailing in each country, long after the critical moments in public...
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