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Hard research and informing policy

Perhaps I am naive, but I continue to believe the statement that we can oppose power with truth. Policy impact assessments and cross-cutting research initiatives continue to fuel policy deliberation processes. The Privacy and Human Rights report from EPIC and Privacy International is continually referred to in Parliamentary debates and media coverage of issues around the world. Through engaging with NGOs and advocates on the ground in a variety of countries we may also fuel their interest while learning from their experiences.

We used this strategy recently with the London School of Economics report on the Identity Card Bill in the UK. By bringing together academics and specialists from a variety of sectors of society we were able to produce a 300 page report outlining the challenges and risks of the Government's proposal, in part by researching the tried and failed practices of other governments around the world. As we have found with Privacy and Human Rights, comparative studies are very powerful for fuelling debate.

Government institutions also have their role to play in generating research and studies. The GAO reports in the U.S. fuel debate around the world on such things as passenger profiling and data mining. UK Home Office reports and studies on controversial stop and search powers may be used to inform debate in other countries who do not collect such data in the first place. Academic and government studies on CCTV cameras and countless other policing measures have shown that truth is available. So long as we do the hard work, we can inform debate and reduce power as the mechanism for pushing such important policy.

The problem with this strategy is that research is difficult and costly. Adequate resources are rarely present. And there are also no promises of success: hard research may go unnoticed in the face of rhetoric.