ACLU Banks on Internet to Defeat Anti-Privacy Proposal

June 14, 1999 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON, DC — InterActive Week today marveled at the American Civil Liberties Union rapid-fire ability to rally troops in a recent online call to action against federal banks officials’ “Know Your Customer” campaign.

In just three months, a left-right-center alliance of political pressure groups had pushed all four federal bank regulators into withdrawing their “Know Your Customer” proposal.

As always, said InterActive Week, the groups sent faxes, made phone calls and wrote letters. But the 250,000 e-mail messages that jammed the boxes of top government officials and congressional committees was the kicker: deprived of easy use of their e-mail, Hill staffers and career bureaucrats begged for mercy.

“We said all the agencies should be required to accept e-mail comments so people could comment,” Greg Nojeim, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU told the online magazine.

Funny thing is, to this day no one’s really sure who started the flood of e-mail. One Republican Hill staffer who worked the issue heavily said he thought the ACLU was responsible for most of the traffic. “We got stacks of e-mail,” he told InterActive Week. “A lot of them were just form letters, but we got a whole lot of them.”

Since members contacted for action were part of the traditional subcommittee on commercial and administrative law, they weren’t especially cyber-savvy. E-mail “has made life a lot more complicated,” the staffer said. “You have to deal with a lot more inquiries.”

Solveig Singleton, director of information studies at the Cato Institute, told InterActive Week that the e-mail campaign spread like wildfire because it appealed to a wide spectrum of people.

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