Protectors of Privacy: Regulating Personal Data in the Global Economy

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Protectors of Privacy: Regulating Personal Data in the Global Economy
By Abraham L. Newman
Cornell University Press, 2008
240 pp. $39.95
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France, Germany, and the United Kingdom were early to adopt comprehensive national policies to protect privacy in the age of computers and high-bandwidth communication. The European Union followed with a directive in 1995. Since then, many countries -- and not just prospective EU members -- have broadly adopted the EU's approach. The United States, in contrast, has followed a much more limited course in assuring, monitoring, and enforcing the protection of privacy. Transatlantic tensions arose in the 1990s as the EU insisted that U.S. firms operating in Europe impose European restrictions on the flow of information between and within firms. Tensions were greatly exacerbated after 9/11, as the U.S. government increased its demand for information, especially with respect to telecommunications and travel, in the interests of thwarting terrorist and criminal activities. This book traces the origins and evolution of privacy legislation in the computer era and argues that the presence of autonomous privacy agencies in Europe gave Europe an advantage in intergovernmental negotiations over the protection of privacy. The author finds that regulatory capability with enforcement powers is a separately identifiable source of "power" in influencing the shape of global rules. This story is well told, but readers looking for a thoughtful discussion of the proper boundary between "privacy" (good) and "secrecy" (often bad) will be disappointed.