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Privacy Codes and Institutional Record Keeping: Procedural versus Strategic Approaches


James B. Rule is at the Center for the Study of Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley. He writes widely on information and privacy issues. He expresses particular thanks to Evan Hendricks, Paul Schwartz, Peter Swire, and Lee Tien, as well as to a number of conscientious, anonymous reviewers, for help in preparation of this article. He may be contacted at


Privacy codes aim at protecting individuals' interests in the treatment of data on themselves held by institutions. One can distinguish between procedural and strategic principles underlying these codes. The former aim at shaping treatment of personal information, once compiled within data systems; the latter aim at limiting and dispersing personal information from the start. A historical view of the workings of these two principles gives more reasons for optimism in the case of strategic measures. In contrast, procedural restrictions on access to personal information are evidently subject to erosion and reversal with changes in larger political climates.