Meltzer at the Transparencies: Technology, Culture, Communication Conference

Kimberly Meltzer, MA Candidate, 2003, presented her paper, "Online Data Privacy Protection: A U.S. Directive is Not on the Horizon" at the Transparencies: Technology, Culture, Communication Conference at the University of Texas at Austin November 1-2, 2002.

ABSTRACT: As increasingly powerful surveillance technologies continue to emerge, the interest in the availability of personal information in cyberspace also grows. Consequently, concern about the privacy of this information, and its present and potential uses, has lead to many suggested means of regulation. In the United States, “regulation” of information transfer and usage in cyberspace rests largely in the hands of private industry. Since the federal government has been hesitant to adopt a national policy, or ‘omnibus’ legislation, current legislation is sectoral. Efforts towards a more uniform rule have yielded numerous propositions, most of which have failed to pass into legislation. The United States lags behind European nations in its creation and enacting of “national” information privacy legislation. In 1995, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the European Data Protection/Privacy Directive that went into effect in October, 1998. The Directive is a legal privacy doctrine that codifies privacy rights that are much stronger than those available to U.S. citizens. This paper seeks to understand why a similar directive could or could not be applied in the U.S., by examining cultural values and historical experiences that have shaped the European directive and staved off an American one thus far. Inherent in these values are underlying philosophies and attitudes about information and privacy that differ between Europeans and Americans. Information privacy in cyberspace is an issue that is on the minds and legislative agendas of many. As often occurs with the introduction of new technology to a market, cyberspace quickly developed many uses that preceded careful thought of the accompanying risks and implications. Now, it is necessary to play catch-up. How should the United States proceed? How did Europe already decide on and implement regulation?