Differences between the American and European systems of privacy laws

Post by: Diana [Isabel] Ajuria


This article, Consumer Data Protection Laws, an Ocean Apart, posted February 2, 2013 in the New York Times is focused on the differences between the American and European systems of privacy laws and speaks to several issues that have been addressed in class. First, the American system is described as very piecemeal, with a greater focus on certain industries, including medical records and credit reports, for example. This is in no doubt partially due to how privacy law in the United States was developed, emerging in  the Warren & Brandeis article and implemented through the Prosser torts.  The European system has grown out of a more blanket regulatory approach that guarantees certain rights. Now, Europe is looking to update their laws and some American tech companies are worried about how this will impact their business in Europe. For example, the article specifically mentions app companies, which we discussed in class this week, which in the United State are for the most part unregulated but would fall under protection in Europe.

Although they take different underlying approaches, common ground can be found in the idea that both the current system in the United States and in Europe seem to be inadequate to meet current privacy needs of an advanced technological age. How one feels about the expansion of the American system, such as seen in the Zimmerman article, might vary. As regarding Europe, the vice president of the European Commission mentions in the article that the “main problem is that [the] rules predate the digital age and it became increasingly clear in recent years that they needed an update.” It will be interesting to see how both countries address privacy concerns over the next decade and if one ultimately convinces the other to adopt their regulatory approach.