Anti-terrorism bill prompts a privacy awareness push

WASHINGTON: Having dominated Congress' attention for months now,

the war on terror has left some public affairs agencies in DC without

much to do. But one element - an anti-terrorism bill signed by President

Bush earlier this month - is forcing those same agencies to quickly

prepare clients for coming changes in the world of online privacy.



Known as the USA Patriot Act, the legislation grants American law

enforcement much broader powers to monitor and intercept online

activities and communications.



Hence internet service providers and companies that do business online

may no longer be able to keep promises they once made regarding

privacy.



Agencies are encouraging these clients to prepare their customers now -

and to be prepared if those customers should complain.



"We're working with clients to make sure they have procedures in place

to be strong advocates of privacy, and to communicate to customers their

commitment to ensuring privacy," said Ogilvy managing director of global

public affairs Jamie Moeller. That translates into ensuring their own

compliance with the new standards, and communicating that compliance to

customers. But it also means letting audiences know that, despite the

changes, privacy is not a fading issue.



Indeed, many PA professionals are banking that the issue will gain

momentum next year as part of a backlash against the current roll-backs

of civil liberties to accommodate the war effort. If that is the case,

they say, it is important that anyone wanting their voice heard step up

now.



"If you don't become engaged in this debate at a reasonably high level

now, I would say chances are you won't be able to play credibly at the

beginning of next year," said Rory O'Connor, VP of Dittus

Communications.



"This means not just talking to consumers about the issue, but letting

your feelings be known in Congress now.



"We're talking to our clients, suggesting that they lay any and all

groundwork that they can to take part in these debates, and to be able

to make a strong case that marketplace self-regulation is the way to

go," O'Connor added. "In essence, you don't want to be a

Johnny-come-lately when the issue really gets hot next year. You want to

be on the shortlist of people whose opinions are going to be sought and

who will testify at hearings.



And if you make your case publicly, you get some consumer support as

well."



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