A new book reveals the dramatic history of the global privacy movement

By Simon Davies

It’s not every day that any of us are given the chance to sit centre-stage in the growth of a movement, but I have enjoyed that privilege. Since the 1980’s I have occupied both the war room and the trenches in the gestation of the global privacy movement.

And now – after so many decades – I can finally tell the story of those experiences. My new book – “Privacy: A Personal Chronicle” is being launched this week.

This is quite intentionally a narrative from my own experience. I make the point that very few activists – in any domain – take the time to record their actions in any detail. Most simply don’t have the time. But it is important to give an insight into the details of the major privacy campaigns. How were they conceived? What made them successful (or an abject disappointment)? My book lifts the curtain on the strategies we adopted, for example in killing national ID card systems, raising awareness in the early days about national security excesses, slapping the banks and bringing the IT industry to account.

Looking back, the whole experience has been a roller coaster. Everything from death threats, brushes with terrorist incidents and vicious attacks by corporate leaders and prime ministers.

Out of necessity, this work is limited in scope. To provide a comprehensive account of everything that happened throughout the creation of the privacy movement would generate a five volume outcome.

Looking back, the whole experience has been a roller coaster. Everything from death threats, brushes with terrorist incidents and vicious attacks by corporate leaders and prime ministers. And in between, there was the constant grind of building a fledgling movement with almost no resources.

One matter that became clear to me during the long process of writing this book was just how vast, complex and fast-moving the privacy field has become. There are probably less than a dozen people on the planet who can intimately grasp the full spectrum of aspects. It is not just the burgeoning number of technologies, but the infinitely complex interaction between those technologies and the equally complex legal landscape. I try to make sense of those elements in the book.

I understand that there are many books out there on this topic, so I thought it may be useful here to present a snapshot of each chapter so you can decide whether this is something you’d like to dive into. As a teaser, Eurozine has published an extract.

Chapter one sets the context. What is privacy and why does it matter in our everyday life? How do we reconcile our demand for privacy with the countless arguments for public interest that oppose it? And importantly, how do we as individuals assert our rights in an age of fear of terrorism (or whatever major issue is at stake at the moment of reading)?

Chapter two looks at the definition of privacy. This is a complex and thorny aspect.

In chapters three and four I explore the technical and legal environments. What are the technologies that threaten us, and what are the legal mechanisms that allegedly protect us?

Chapter five is about the mechanisms that provide oversight and protection over privacy. Do they work?

In chapter six I explore the motivation for people’s involvement in the privacy movement. Why did they do it? What were the triggers? I reflect on my first privacy campaign at the age of fourteen.

Chapter seven looks at the various identity card campaigns I’ve founded since 1987 and chapter eight looks at the consequence of those actions: the creation of the international privacy movement.

Chapter nine gives you an insight into some of the early privacy campaigns and the strategy behind them.

Chapter ten tells the inside story of the biggest privacy campaign against the banks. Chapter eleven talks about the fight in the 1990s against CCTV and chapter twelve describes my efforts to expose the US National Security Agency and its worldwide surveillance.

In chapter thirteen I peek behind the curtains of the biggest IT companies in the world and describe my many campaigns against the likes of Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Finally, in chapter fourteen, I talk of possible solutions. How can we build a better future for privacy?

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“Privacy: A Personal Chronicle” is published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and is available from the EPIC online book store at https://www.epic.org/bookstore/