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Data Privacy Day 2011

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Today is Data Privacy Day – “an annual international celebration to raise awareness and generate discussion about information privacy.”  In Europe, it’s called European Privacy and Data Protection Day.  The day, whether in North America or in Europe or other parts of the world, basically involves various corporations, government officials and representatives, academics, and students participating in events aimed at discussing and improving awareness of issues relating to data privacy.

We’ve talked about other “days” previously, such as Human Rights Day and Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, and I thought that this was another one that was interesting to highlight.  Laws and regulations relating to data protection and privacy have become extremely important and affect each of us personally as we go about our daily lives, even if we don’t think about them specifically.  We encounter privacy questions in a variety of contexts – when we’re sharing photos online, applying for a job, updating our Twitter or Facebook pages, sending emails, buying things online, logging into our bank accounts, downloading an app on a smartphone, visiting the doctor, or filing our tax returns.  We rely on sound legal frameworks, the policies and practices of different agencies and companies, as well as software and other technology – and our own good sense – to protect the information that we share about ourselves.

Since their impact is so broad, data privacy laws and how they are complied with (or not) is also one of those legal topics that makes it into the news quite frequently.  For example, when computer systems (or phones) are hacked, or information leaked, or personal details stolen, shared, or accidentally released, or the privacy features of social network sites are changed, or new viruses put data security at risk.

If you’re ever interested in looking behind these stories at the laws, their history, how they are enforced, and even what they mean for you, there is a HUGE amount of information available online.  The following might be some good places to start…

Here at the Law Library we have a “right of privacy” topic as part of our Global Legal Monitor.  You can find relevant legislative history, such as that relating to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (which includes provisions relating to the privacy of financial information), on THOMAS, and we also have records of various congressional hearings relating to privacy.  In addition, a couple of the blawgs that we archive cover privacy law issues.  Other U.S. government websites have different details about data privacy laws and their enforcement, including the Federal Trade Commission, which has responsibilities relating to guarding against “unfairness and deception by enforcing companies’ privacy promises about how they collect, use and secure consumers’ personal information.”  (I also see that the FTC recently released a report on a proposed framework relating to online privacy protection, and there is talk about the issue receiving some attention from Congress this year as well.)

In terms of the laws of different countries, I thought I’d take a look to see if there are any lists that show how the privacy of data is regulated around the world.  And there is!  The International Trade Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Commerce) has recently published lists that provide an overview of the laws in selected Western Hemisphere and Asia and Oceania countries (there is other information relating to global activities in the area on their site as well).  Note that in the European Union, data protection legislation has been harmonized in accordance with Directive 95/46/EC and other relevant directives or decisions.

The legislation lists also include links to the websites of privacy protection agencies, which are great places to look if you’re interested in how the laws operate and to see the types of educational or guidance material available.  I also found an interesting interactive map of the various data protection laws that provides the name of the instrument and some other brief information.

Of course, there are many books here at the Library of Congress on the subject of data privacy from all over the world – just search our catalog – and new information is being published all the time (for example, I just saw that there is a new Oxford law journal specifically on International Data Privacy Law).  It’s certainly a global legal topic that is of great interest and impact.

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