Way back (OK not that long ago) when I was an undergrad, I wrote a term paper that argued that the US needed a privacy ombudsman, someone who would act as a check on government and business encroachments on citizen privacy. This was an easy argument to make. After all, the US and Europe were on similar trajectories concerning privacy in the 1970s. It may be a stretch, but I suspect that one of the reasons the US has weaker privacy laws now is that we haven’t had a cabinet-level person whose job is to protect the privacy of US citizens, while many European states established such positions.
Wired has an article on the new privacy czar proposed by Reps. Meek and Turner. It’s disappointing to note that the proposed czar seems to have little sway over corporations. In the short run, this might be acceptable; any improvement is welcome. However, if current trends persist, government agencies will simply shift their intelligence efforts to private companies (like the seemingly quasi-governmental ChoicePoint) that assemble dossiers on individuals.
Nonetheless, a privacy czar would provide the resources that would create a mechanism for using privacy legislation. As it stands now, most people are unaware of instances where their privacy is violated, and are unwilling to expend the resources necessary to protect those rights if they do find out about such violations. Short of federal funding for the ACLU, this seems like a step in the right direction.