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Data privacy: From Arthur Miller to Edward Snowden

Mark Sableman June 5, 2015

Data privacy concerns, proposals, and laws (and violations of them) are all around us these days:

  • Edward Snowden’s disclosures of NSA data collection led Congress to replace provisions of the post-9/11 the Patriot Act with the more privacy-friendly USA Freedom Act.
  • Data-use fumbles by spotlight companies like Uber have led to major public controversies and significant voluntary reforms, such as those in Hogan Lovells’ “Review and Assessment of Uber’s Privacy Program.”
  • Widely publicized data breaches of companies like Target and Sony have highlighted the vulnerability of business data.
  • President Obama has proposed a new Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
  • The Global Commission on Internet Governance recently warned that governments and citizens around the world need to develop a new “social compact for the digital age,” including limits on government data collection and greater transparency for the market in “collecting, centralizing, integrating and analyzing enormous quantities of private information about individuals and enterprises.”
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has concluded that data security is so important that public companies must disclose their cybersecurity practices and incidents.
  • As eminent an authority as Science magazine has warned of “the end of privacy” because the power of technology “makes traditional notions of privacy obsolete.”
  • And despite all of these public concerns, a recent Pew Center study reveals that most Americans haven’t significantly changed their privacy and security behaviors.

Where did this crazy issue of data privacy come from? And what policies and practices are likely in store as our governments and businesses grapple with all of the new data privacy concerns of the digital age?

I tried to tackle these questions in a background chapter I wrote for the “Sage Guide to Key Issues in Mass Media Law and Ethics.” This two-volume set, edited by William Babcock and William Freivogel of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and published in May 2015, is designed to provide background to university communications professors and students on modern media and communications legal and ethical issues.

My chapter on “Data Privacy” discusses the background and context for the modern data privacy debate, including its origins more than 50 years ago, as Alan Weston, Arthur Miller and others predicted what Miller called “the assault on privacy.” The chapter describes data privacy’s place amid our many other privacy laws, reviews the existing patchwork of U.S. privacy laws, identifies particular modern data privacy concerns, and concludes with a review of the many open policy issues that need to be resolved as we move forward with data privacy controls.

The chapter may prove useful to those who are seeking a context for the blast of data privacy shocks and headlines that seem to be coming every day. For any of you who find it so exciting that you want to rush out and read the other 55 chapters, too, the book is available from Sage Publications’ website. I understand it’s a highly desirable Father’s Day gift.

Some of my previous posts on data privacy:

Mark Sableman is a partner in Thompson Coburn’s Intellectual Property group. He is the editorial director of Internet Law Twists & Turns. You can find Mark on Twitter, and reach him at (314) 552-6103 or msableman@thompsoncoburn.com.