Data Protection Law



Data Protection Law deals with the security of the electronic transmission of personal data. As of yet, the United States does not have any centralized, formal legislation at the federal level regarding this issue, but does insure the privacy and protection of data through the United States Privacy Act, the Safe Harbor Act and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

U.S. Sectoral Approach

The United States follows what is referred to as a 'sectoral' approach to data protection legislation. Under this approach, the laws of data protection and privacy rely on a combination of legislation, regulation, and self-regulation rather than governmental interference alone. Since the Clinton administration, the U.S. has followed a policy geared toward allowing the private sector to lead the way in data protection. This means that companies should implement their own policies, develop their own technology, and individuals should self-regulate to prevent the dissemination of their private data. Pursuant to this policy, the US has not yet developed a single, federal data protection law.

European Data Protection Laws

The European Union, on the other hand, has a unified data protection law called the Data Protection Directive. The EU's Data Protection Directive regulates the processing of personal data within the European Union and is an important component of the EU's privacy and human rights law. However, recognizing the need to modify this law to deal with globalization and technological developments, the European Union prepared a draft European General Data Protection Regulation that will supersede the Data Protection Directive, which is targeted for adoption in 2014 and to become effective in 2016. The existing Data Protection Directive, in simplest terms, asserts that personal data should not be processed at all, but if it is, it must fall within certain categories of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality. The proposed law would expand the data protection regime currently in place to cover all international companies doing business in the EU.

U.S. Ad Hoc Privacy Laws

Under the U.S. Sectoral approach, however, privacy legislation tends to be sparse and only adopted on an ad hoc basis, with legislation arising when circumstances require. These laws usually only apply to situations in which individuals would not be able to control the use of their data through self-regulations. Examples include the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, the Cable Television Protection and Competition Act of 1992, and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

American Privacy Law Traditions

The reasoning behind the U.S. approach to privacy laws has as much to do with American laissez-faire economics as with its legal tradition. For example, while the U.S. has prized its right to free speech so dearly that the very first amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects it explicitly, the Constitution does not have an explicit right to privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court has found a right to privacy implied by the terms of other portions of the Constitution, and many states have explicit privacy rights in their state constitutions, but on a federal level there is no express constitutional guarantee to privacy. As a result, there is similarly no constitutional framework upon which to build a single data privacy act, making the ad hoc approach much more compatible with the American system of government

For more information on data protection laws, please refer to the materials found below on this page. Moreover, should you need the assistance of an attorney to protect your rights as related to a data protection issue, whether as a person or entity that acquires and uses this data or as one who is afraid of the misuse of your personal information, you can find a list of attorneys in your area by visiting our Law Firms page.

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Data Protection Law - US

  • Data Protection Directive - Wikipedia

    The Data Protection Directive (officially Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data) is a European Union directive which regulates the processing of personal data within the European Union. It is an important component of EU privacy and human rights law.

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  • US, EU and Swiss Safe Harbor Frameworks

    The U.S. Department of Commerce in consultation with the Federal Data Protection and Information Commission of Switzerland developed a "Safe Harbor" framework to bridge the different privacy approaches between the two countries and provide a streamlined means for U.S. organizations to comply with the Swiss data protection law. This website also provides the information an organization should need to evaluate – and then join – the U.S.-Swiss Safe Harbor Framework.

Data Protection Law - International

  • Data Protection Laws Around the Globe

    Information Privacy is an International concern. Today, most countries have laws protecting personal data from misuse and destruction. Regulation and enforcement of data protection varies from country to country.

  • Data Protection Legislation

    In 2012, the Commission proposed a major reform of the EU legal framework on the protection of personal data. The new proposals will strengthen individual rights and tackle the challenges of globalisation and new technologies.

Organizations Related to Data Protection Law

  • Center for Democracy and Technology - Data Security/Breach

    New technology has created powerful new ways to gather, store, sort, analyze, locate, correlate, and disseminate data. This has enabled increasingly intensive use of personal data, which can deliver significant benefits. But the growing use of personal data raises a host of privacy challenges as well.

  • Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

    EPIC is a public interest research center in Washington, D.C. It was established in 1994 to focus public attention on emerging civil liberties issues and to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values.

  • Privacy International

    Privacy International (PI) is a human rights group formed in 1990 as a watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations. PI is based in London, England, and has an office in Washington, D.C. We have campaigned across the world to protect people against intrusion by governments and corporations that seek to erode this fragile right. We believe that privacy forms part of the bedrock of freedoms, and our goal has always been to use every means to preserve it.

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Publications Related to Data Protection Law

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  • EPIC Alert

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