Data Privacy Protection

In the United States, by contrast, data privacy protection is something of a patchwork. In general, national or federal regulations address privacy issues with regard to health matters (e.g., the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability, leaving the rest to individual states and/or businesses to work out. The default setting here is the exact opposite of the EU model: rather than asking individuals to “opt in” to having their information collected, processed, and distributed in specific ways, the US approach requires individuals to “opt out” if they have reservations about how information about them is being collected and possibly used. So it is, then, that, if you are sitting in the US and would like the “opt-in” approach more characteristic of the EU codes, you’ll need to install the sorts of security software discussed above.

Burk further observes that this “business-friendly” attitude is in part the result of a utilitarian approach to the issues of data privacy protection. Simply put, the US preference is for minimal governmental involvement and maximum freedom for businesses: the hope is to minimize the economic – and other – costs of implementing and enforcing more rigorous data privacy protections, such as those of the European Union, and thereby maximize business efficiencies and profitability. Presumably, doing so will lead to the utilitarian goal of realizing the greatest good for the greatest number – at least in terms of economic gains and benefits (Burk 2007, 98f.). According to James Whitman, this US approach is further rooted in nineteenth-century “emphasis on consumer sovereignty”, coupled with the late nineteenth-century enthusiasm for laissez-faire market ideologies.

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As a last piece in the US patchwork: in the absence of any further developments in US privacy law, California has moved forward to develop more EU-style approaches to privacy.

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