Legislation and regulation may be one of the best techniques for protecting privacy in the twenty-first century, just as laws and regulations proved to be the only effective way to protect the environment in the twentieth century. Without government protection for the privacy rights of individuals, it is simply too easy and too profitable for business to act in a manner that's counter to our interests.
Thirty years ago, the United States was well on its way to creating an institutional regime of privacy protection. Unfortunately, Watergate and the failures of the Carter administration took us off course. As a result, we've created a government and business environment in which there is little interest or experience in working with privacy issues. The primary way that this lack of experience manifests itself is through the growing number of privacy debacles we have seen in recent years. Again and again, some government agency or business launches a new program or service—a program that will have some unintended impact on privacy. When the public finds out, there is invariably a scandal—sometimes accompanied by congressional hearings or mass consumer protest. And we don't seem to learn from our experiences.
A far better approach would be to create a permanent federal oversight agency charged with protecting privacy. Such an agency would:
Watch over the federal government's own tendency to sacrifice people's privacy for other goals, ...