In 1968, the Council of Europe began to study the effects of technology on human rights, recognizing the new threats posed by computer technology that could link and transmit in ways not widely available before. As well, in 1969 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) began to examine the implications of personal information leaving the country. All this led the council to recommend that policy be developed to protect personal data held by both the private and public sectors, leading to Convention 108. In 1981, Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Convention 108) was introduced. One of the first privacy laws ever enacted was the Swedish Data Act in 1973, followed by the West German Data Protection Act in 1977 and the French Law on Informatics, Data Banks and Freedoms in 1978.
In Canada, a Privacy Commissioner of Canada was established under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977. In 1982, the appointment of a Privacy Commissioner was part of the new Privacy Act. Canada signed the OECD guidelines in 1984.
There are significant differences between the EU data protection and US data privacy laws. These standards must be met not only by businesses operating in the EU but also by any organization that transfers personal information collected concerning citizens of the EU. In 2001 the United States Department of Commerce worked to ensure legal compliance for US organizations under an opt-in Safe Harbor Program. The FTC has approved TRUSTe to certify streamlined compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor.
In 1995 the European Union (EU) introduced the Data Protection Directive for its member states. As a result, many organizations doing business within the EU began to draft policies to comply with this Directive. In the same year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published the Fair Information Principles which provided a set of non-binding governing principles for the commercial use of personal information. While not mandating policy, these principles provided guidance of the developing concerns of how to draft privacy policies.
The United States does not have a specific federal regulation establishing universal implementation of privacy policies. Congress has, at times, considered comprehensive laws regulating the collection of information online, such as the Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act and the Online Privacy Protection Act of 2001, but none have been enacted. In 2001, the FTC stated an express preference for "more law enforcement, not more laws" and promoted continued focus on industry self-regulation.
In many cases, the FTC enforces the terms of privacy policies as promises made to consumers using the authority granted by Section 5 of the FTC Act which prohibits unfair or deceptive marketing practices. The FTC's powers are statutorily restricted in some cases; for example, airlines are subject to the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and cell phone carriers are subject to the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In some cases, private parties enforce the terms of privacy policies by filing class action lawsuits, which may result in settlements or judgments. However, such lawsuits are often not an option, due to arbitration clauses in the privacy policies or other terms of service agreements.
While no generally applicable law exists, some federal laws govern privacy policies in specific circumstances, such as:
Canada's federal Privacy Law applicable to the private sector is formally referred to as Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The purpose of the act is to establish rules to govern the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by commercial organizations. The organization is allowed to collect, disclose and use the amount of information for the purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstance.
The Act establishes the Privacy Commissioner of Canada as the Ombudsman for addressing any complaints that are filed against organizations. The Commissioner works to resolve problems through voluntary compliance, rather than heavy-handed enforcement. The Commissioner investigates complaints, conducts audits, promotes awareness of and undertakes research about privacy matters.
The right to privacy is a highly developed area of law in Europe. All the member states of the European Union (EU) are also signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 8 of the ECHR provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions. The European Court of Human Rights has given this article a very broad interpretation in its jurisprudence.
In 1980, in an effort to create a comprehensive data protection system throughout Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) issued its "Recommendations of the Council Concerning Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Trans-Border Flows of Personal Data". The seven principles governing the OECD's recommendations for protection of personal data were:
The OECD guidelines, however, were nonbinding, and data privacy laws still varied widely across Europe. The US, while endorsing the OECD's recommendations, did nothing to implement them within the United States. However, all seven principles were incorporated into the EU Directive.
In 1995, the EU adopted the Data Protection Directive, which regulates the processing of personal data within the EU. There were significant differences between the EU data protection and equivalent U.S. data privacy laws. These standards must be met not only by businesses operating in the EU but also by any organization that transfers personal information collected concerning a citizen of the EU. In 2001 the United States Department of Commerce worked to ensure legal compliance for US organizations under an opt-in Safe Harbor Program. The FTC has approved a number of US providers to certify compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor. Since 2010 Safe Harbor is criticised especially by German publicly appointed privacy protectors because the FTC's will to assert the defined rules hadn't been implemented in a proper even after revealing disharmonies.
Effective 25 May 2018, the Data Protection Directive is superseded by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which harmonizes privacy rules across all EU member states. GDPR imposes more stringent rules on the collection of personal information belonging to EU data subjects, including a requirement for privacy policies to be more concise, clearly-worded, and transparent in their disclosure of any collection, processing, storage, or transfer of personally identifiable information. Data controllers must also provide the opportunity for their data to be made portable in a common format, and for it to be erased under certain circumstances.
The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 made significant changes to the Information Technology Act, 2000, introducing Section 43A. This section provides compensation in the case where a body corporate that possesses, deals or handles any sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource that it owns, controls or operates, is negligent in implementing and maintaining reasonable security practices and procedures and thereby causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person.
Online certification or "seal" programs are an example of industry self-regulation of privacy policies. Seal programs usually require implementation of fair information practices as determined by the certification program and may require continued compliance monitoring. TRUSTe, the first online privacy seal program, included more than 1,800 members by 2007 Other online seal programs include the Trust Guard Privacy Verified program,eTrust, and Webtrust.
Some websites also define their privacy policies using P3P or Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), allowing browsers to automatically assess the level of privacy offered by the site, and allowing access only when the site's privacy practices are in line with the user's privacy settings. However, these technical solutions do not guarantee websites actually follows the claimed privacy policies. They also require users to have a minimum level of technical knowledge to configure their own browser privacy settings. These automated privacy policies have not been popular either with websites or their users.
This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. (January 2015)
Many critics have attacked the efficacy and legitimacy of privacy policies found on the Internet. Concerns exist about the effectiveness of industry-regulated privacy policies. For example, a 2000 FTC report Privacy Online: Fair Information Practices in the Electronic Marketplace found that while the vast majority of websites surveyed had some manner of privacy disclosure, most did not meet the standard set in the FTC Principles. In addition, many organizations reserve the express right to unilaterally change the terms of their policies. In June 2009 the EFF website TOSback began tracking such changes on 56 popular internet services, including monitoring the privacy policies of Amazon, Google and Facebook.
Privacy policies suffer generally from a lack of precision, especially when compared with the emerging form of the Data Use Statement. Where privacy statements provide a more general overview of data collection and use, data use statements represent a much more specific treatment. As a result, privacy policies may not meet the increased demand for transparency that data use statements provide.
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