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Coalition building

After the disaster of the REAL ID Act, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, pointed out that the battle was not yet over. He was able to show that more than 600 organizations -- including state legislation associations, civil liberties groups and pro-immigrant advocates -- opposed the bill. He was quoted as saying that: "This is one of the biggest mistakes Congress has ever made. This is not over by any means."

The ability to bring together a wide variety of groups and institutions against a common cause is perhaps the most powerful strategy. In the U.S. we see these coalitions continuing to have a significant effect.

The beauty of coalitions is that they also alert various sectors of society to pressing problems. For instance, 42 organisations ranging from the American Library Association, the Japanese American Citizens League, and the national Immigration Law Center signed on to a submission to the Department of Homeland Security's initiative to generate a new database (see for more information). Many of these organisations may not have been well informed of the practice and the details of the proposed policy, but through positive engagement we also spread the message and they are warned of these pressing developments.

Coalitions are particularly useful if they involve other areas of society, such as industry, local councils, parliaments, etc. In Europe we have created broad coalitions with industry on communications data retention, where we had 190 industry and civil society organisations sign on to a submission to the European Commission. I also received reports that some biometric and RFID vendors were unhappy with proposed government policies because it shed unkind lights upon their technologies; though we have not yet successfully engaged these industries.

Commissioners and regulators also have their role to play within these coalitions. We were able to forge a consensus between data protection commissioners and NGOs and appealed for a review of the EU proposals on biometric passports, though unsuccessfully. The British Columbia privacy commissioner conducted a consultation process on the transfer of data to the U.S.; this generated public attention to the situation, and called for a positive engagement on the issue. Consultation processes continue to generate interest and attention and are opportunities for us all to come together and have a say, and to question policy.