In my post from earlier this year, I commented on how Senator Leahy re-introduced his Personal Data Privacy Act…the same bill he has been submitted every year for the last 5 years. 5 months after the re-introduction of the bill this year, there is still no GOP support for Leahy’s Privacy bill.

By my count so far this year, there were 9 data privacy bills introduced into both houses of Congress. This may not sound like a ton, but is half the number of the bills introduced during the Health Care Reform debate of 2008. So it looks like 2011 won’t be the year we get a national data privacy law.

Why not? Do Americans not care about Privacy? Of course they do. Every state in America now has their own data privacy law. How often are their respective Attorney’s General enforcing those laws? Most of them don’t have private rights of action, so there isn’t any one else to enforce them. States probably wont enforce the laws unless they can collect some fines out of it, which means smaller infractions will get overlooked anyway. So Americans have some privacy, but not very much.

Facebook is at war with Privacy. In January of 2010, Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg pronounced that Privacy is dead. The EU Obviously cares. They’ve spent the last 30 years putting steroids into their Privacy laws. Max Screms, a European law student, is taking Facebook to task over their numerous violations of Irish Privacy laws. Although European members data privacy laws still differ, their push for privacy started with the OECD in 1980 and more recently the EU Data Protection Directive.

So why aren’t Americans more up in arms? Max Screms worries, “The KGB or the CIA never had 1200 pages [of information] on the average citizen.” But Facebook does.

Some theories about why American’s don’t care about Privacy:

  • We’re more worried about the economy – nope, the unemployment rate in Europe has been much worse for longer.
  • Most people haven’t read 1984 – that’s probably true…it’s never been made into an American movie with Brad Pitt.
  • We’re more worried about the stock market, the housing market, health care reform??? This is interesting…the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with the Tea Party, and the Iraq War Activists have been some of the few examples where Americans have been willing to take to the streets for a cause en mass in recent memory.
  • We’re more worried about Terrorism than the EU – I don’t think so. The Facebook case is going on in Ireland, and I think they’re slightly more sensitive to terrorism than we are.
  • What about Corporate Interests – some might say our politicians are bought and sold by corporations. While that may be a valid point, politicians everywhere suffer from the same temptations, and by all evidence, American politicians get in trouble a lot less than their European, Russian, or Asian counterparts.
  • Maybe we’re naturally voyeuristic? We are willing to trade our own privacy in order to invade other people’s privacy. This sounds pretty accurate to me.
  • Maybe we assume if it’s really a problem, then we can just sue somebody. Oh wait, all the so called ‘privacy’ legislation being thrown around doesn’t give individuals a private right of action against privacy infringers. Fines just go to state coffers and probably aren’t enough to deter bad behavior anyway. Remember CAN-SPAM? Of course you don’t.
  • Maybe Americans are just behind the curve? After all, Myspace fell apart, and that could have been an unconscious choice by the faceless public because Myspace felt less secure…from the viruses, to the unsolicited connections from weirdos, to how the apps felt like they gave away your information in a more overt way. Do we vote with our feet? Voting with one’s feet presumes that you have a meaningful choice…if you’re just voting between the lesser of two evils, then you end up voting for the more clean cut of two gangsters who doesn’t curse and swear while they rifle through your life.
  • Or maybe Americans do care about privacy. Maybe the ones that really care, haven’t bothered to join Facebook or have left. So why aren’t they up in arms? If they were, then they’d be in the spotlight, and that’s not really something they’re interested in. Why should they take a stand to protect you when you’re obviously okay with giving up your personal details? Also, this group of people tends to wear tin-foil hats.

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