Last week on his personal blog, Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel for Google, posted an interesting essay entitled “We Need a Better, Simpler Narrative of US Privacy Laws.” Fleischer says that Europe has done a better job marketing its privacy regime to the world than the United States and argues that “The US has to figure out how to explain its privacy laws on the global stage” since “Europe is convincing many countries around the world to implement privacy laws that follow the European model.” He notes that “in the last year alone, a dozen countries in Latin America and Asia have adopted euro-style privacy laws [while] not a single country, anywhere, has followed the US model.” Fleischer argues that this has ramifications for long-term trade policy and global Internet regulation more generally.
I found this essay very interesting because I deal with some of these issues in my latest law review article, “The Pursuit of Privacy in a World Where Information Control is Failing” (Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, vol. 36, no. 2, Spring 2013). In the article, I suggest that the U.S. does have a unique privacy regime and it is one that is very similar in character to the regime that governs online child safety issues. Whether we are talking about online safety or digital privacy, the defining characteristics of the U.S. regime are that it is bottom-up, evolutionary, education-based, empowerment-focused, and resiliency-centered. It focuses on responding to safety and privacy harms after exhausting other alternatives, including market responses and the evolution of societal norms.
The EU regime, by contrast, is more top-down in character and takes a more static, inflexible view of privacy rights. It tries to impose a one-size-fits-all model on a diverse citizenry and it attempts to do so through heavy-handed data directives and ongoing “agency threats.” It is a regime that makes more sweeping pronouncements about rights and harms and generally recommends a “precautionary principle” approach to technological change in which digital innovation is more “permissioned.”
Put simply, the U.S. regime is reactive in character while the E.U. regime is more preemptive. The U.S. system focuses on responding to safety and privacy problems using a more diverse toolbox of solutions, some of which are governmental in character while others are based on evolving social and market norms and responses. To be clear, law does enter the picture here in the U.S., but it does so in a very different way than it does in the E.U. Continue reading →