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Generally it takes an incident to focus attention on the issue of informational privacy – and such incidents tend to focus on one type of record system at a time. This human interest element helps to define the policy problem, galvanize media and public attention, and give members of Congress concrete examples of privacy invasion to justify their votes. There is always vocal and well-financed opposition to privacy protections, generally from business and government bureaucrats who do not want to restrict access to information. Their opposition is usually quite successful in weakening the proposed privacy protections and in further narrowing the scope of such protections. And after passage opponents are likely the challenge legislation in the courts, often on the basis of First Amendment grounds that any information, including that about individuals, should flow freely and without government restrictions.

* Priscilla M. Regan (2008), “The United States,” in Global Privacy Protection: The First Generation, James B. Rule and Graham Greenlead (eds.).