Sunday, November 21, 2004


from Peter Swire....

I don’t know how many times I have had the pleasure of talking with Ron Plesser at a privacy conference, but I’m sure I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count.

One day I remember most about Ron is when he agreed to have breakfast with me shortly after I entered the government in 1999. A friend had suggested that I try to learn from the “wise men” (wise persons) in the field, and Ron was at the top of my list.

At breakfast, Ron gave a personal and wonderful history of privacy as a political and policy issue in Washington, D.C. He talked about his early work with the Nader folks in the fight to expand the Freedom of Information Act. He talked about what he did with the Privacy Protection Study Commission in the 1970s. He talked about globalization, and direct marketing, and a dozen other topics.

As a lifelong policy wonk, I reveled in the wonderful insights that Ron was sharing. As a person, though, I remember the bond of shared humanity in our discussion, both that morning and ever since.

Ron had a sort of gruff voice and tone. Plus, his job sometimes was to say the uncomfortable truths in a debate that others wouldn’t want to hear: “This proposal won’t work because ….” In hearing him for the first time, one could mistakenly think him tough or hard.

But he wasn’t. Ron had a special warmth in how he approached the people around him. When I had a sick child in my family, he would always remember to ask. When he himself faced problems, such as with heart surgery a couple of years ago, the rest of us could only hope to match the way he had treated us in our times of trouble.

Those of us who care about privacy should think together about what we can do to honor Ron’s legacy.

Peter Swire

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