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JILT 2005(1) - The Governance of Privacy

The Governance of Privacy: Policy Instruments in Global Perspective



Colin J. Bennett and Charles D. Raab
Ashgate Publishing Limited
ISBN 1855214733
Cost. £49.95




General introductions to the rules governing our knowledge society are difficult. This is especially so in regards to the myriad ways in which it is linked to laws that are linked to it. It seems that academic practitioners are hesitant to offer future jurists approximations - in place of the tools for the exercising of their profession in a world which is different from that where the current laws or legal decisions originated. These, in fact, are usually explained as class contents. Additionally, we have the paradox that some teachers that use Communication and Information Technologies (CIT) in their daily work neither know their characteristics nor, obviously, their implications, even though they are not blind to the fact that they can buy a book in a bookshop in another continent, or read the news offered at that same moment by any newspaper in the world, without moving from their office. In spite of all this, they explain their subjects without using, for example, cases resolved in Tribunals related to the societies in which they live and only in a very small number of cases do they use Communication and Information Technologies as auxiliary tools in their teaching.

This is relevant because the main objective of Bennett and Raab's work is, precisely, that of introducing Political Science in the context of the knowledge society, highlighting the existence of a deficiency in the training precisely because there is no reference to its characteristics and the policies regulating it (p. 4).

In order to carry out the introduction, they use, as an example, a subject significant enough in the knowledge society, that of Privacy: permanently discussed and regulated (from the mid sixties of the Twentieth century, p. 14) but, at the same time, permanently blurred in the monographics dealing with it (p. 26-30). In spite of this, the example is appropriate enough for the authors’ intentions: it is sufficiently studied in the literature: not only that of a technical character, and this from the beginning of the implementation of the CIT, there are regulations, policies, and is permanently being changed, with multiple aspects appearing, as is happening with the technological change development; this allows presenting this change through privacy: outstanding merit of the work once and even when, in spite of the public to whom the work is addressed (Political Science experts), have no interest in the same. It does present to those interested in the CIT regulations a complex discourse, or limited to one or the other aspects of said regulation. This is so because the authors deal with aspects such as the lack of security, the electronic signature, or the codes of practice with greater strength and clarity than the works that are dedicated, monographically, to one or another of these issues.

The Book

The book has three parts. The first deals with Policy Goals, the second with Policy Instruments and the third one with Policy Impacts. Below the most significant contents of each one of these parts are briefly summarised.

The first part of the work (Policy Goals) is dedicated to the description of what is understood by privacy and to the presentation of the paradox that, in spite of everything that is talked about regarding the scope of the action of the information technologies from practically the beginning of their social use, there is no precision on what the content of the expression is, nor doctrinal studies, such as opinion polls or empirical works carried out on the matter. Very scarce, on the other hand (pages 56 to 65), in spite of the evidence that there is a need to rely on these studies in order to provide the expression of appropriate contents since it seems different that the content given to the same by virtue of the profile of those very few polled that have already answered the same.

There is another paradox if we take a look at the existing instruments (Policy Instruments) because, in spite of the vagueness of the privacy expression, there are four types of specific instruments or mechanisms that are used to start privacy: there are trans-national privacy protection instruments: agreements signed by the European Council, but also by the OECD and, of course, by the European Union. But not only international instruments: there are also several legal mechanisms (laws) of specific countries and ad hoc regulating agencies dedicated to the implementation of the rules and regulations. There are self-regulating mechanisms: codes of practice and even Technological Instruments, the so-called PET (Privacy Enhancing Technologies), which are destined to safeguard privacy. The work carries out a clear and very documented description of each of these types of instruments, making clear the important role that Governments have in the implementation of all these instruments (p.156).

The last part (Policy Impacts), after magnificently highlighting existing privacy: its instruments or basic contents, and its global or interdependent character (pages 163-185), attempts to establish quality criteria to observe whether existing instruments have it, regarding the mechanisms destined to start up the defence of privacy. The problems consists of the fact that the evaluation of the quality of some instruments used to protect something like privacy is difficult, as privacy is not clearly defined (pages 197-199).

The conclusion is that this is a complex phenomenon that is put into practice in a complex way with a group of plural instruments and mechanisms and not with one or other specific type of solutions (p. 228).


The book is good proof of the virtuality that the studies that deal with complexity in a complex way have. In this case an attempt is made to explain for Political Science the characteristics of the knowledgeable society when explaining privacy ‘governance’. The richness of nuances of the conclusions cannot be achieved with works that deal abstractly with the laws or techniques. They are both unreal: they are not focused on the context, which is what really matters: the characteristics of the knowledge society. With this example we observe, on the other hand, that when the matter is dealt with from a minimally founded, nuances and the richness of a treatment connected to reality appear. This makes the book interesting, not only for experts in Political Science but for those interested in privacy. This, of course, independently from of the fact that many experts in Political Science are not interested in its contents.

Professor Fernando Galindo teaches law at the Universidad de Zaragoza.
He can be reached at: <>.


This is a Book Review published on 22 August 2005.

Citation: Galindo, ' The Governance of Privacy: Policy Instruments in Global Perspective’, Book Review, 2005 (1) The Journal of Information, Law and Technology (JILT).<>.