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
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
"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
"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