The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation Protects Citizens Privacy While Americans Remain Vulnerable
Privacy is something that most American’s do not realize they’ve lost. Despite high profile cases where government whistle-blowers like Edward Snowden tell the public they’re under constant surveillance, the narrative is shifted and Snowden becomes the villain, having to escape the country to save his own life for tattling on dangerous a government overreach of power.
Amazingly, many Americans weren’t grateful for the information- the fact that they were being listened to by government operatives and their cell phone conversations recorded seemed trivial- but in some bizarre twist, they loathed Snowden for breaking form, at his own risk, and doing what he believed was right for the Nation who had, until then, remained unaware of the violations of their own privacy.
Privacy. In the technological era, does not exist. Just as recently as last month, we saw Cambridge Analytica scrape 85 million Facebook users data, building extensive profiles on them- everything from the political affiliation, to their religious beliefs. After one of the biggest data breeches in history, the American government did absolutely nothing in response.
The European Union on the other hand most definitely jumped into action, establishing new laws that limits the access to consumer data via the General Data Protection Regulation- or GDPR- which puts a heavy hand on companies around the globe that attempt to harvest the data of European users without consent. Furthermore, it gives users of these services more power than ever before, even requiring that they comply with wishes to delete content related to an individual should they request it- everything from banking institutions to social media activity must adhere to these laws regardless of their country of origin in relation to a European resident, it is illegal to acquire any data on a European citizen and store it, sell it or barter with it.
Europe has always had more stringent laws regarding privacy than the United States. For example, it’s much more difficult to track down someone via websites that offer up home addresses, family members, telephone numbers and other personal information. In America, these website are abundant, and available for use for a small fee, prominently advertising their services.
This has resulted in women attempting to escape abusive husbands or ex lovers being found and killed. These are tools that are in every stalkers kit. If they want to find you, for 12.99, they can… and your brother, your mother, your workplace, your home address and any mugshots or criminal record you might have. It’s all there for public consumption. These companies are in the business of selling you to any buyer interested in access to you. This does not exist in Europe. You can’t google a civilians name and come up with anything invasive.
A friend of mine was arrested several years ago for a traffic violation. His mugshot, being in the public domain, was put on a website in a searchable database that users can subscribe to… and many do. Employers use it for background checks, potential landlords use it, even possible future partners just looking for reassurance. For my friend, because his Mugshot was listed on this site- from 4 years prior- he could not get a job. These sites do not bother explaining the charges or even if there were any. In some cases, all charges were dropped, but there remains their mugshot for anyone curious enough to see in a few keystrokes. It causes irreparable damage to an individuals reputation and misrepresents who they are as a person.
They blackmail you. If you want your mugshot removed on just one of the 200 websites, it will cost you 400–800 dollars. They claim they will remove it once the money is paid, but assert the fact that it will remain on all the other data hosting sites around the USA. Quickly, it becomes evident that attempting to remove these things is futile. You must simply live with the ongoing damage that it has incurred on your life.
Not so in the European Union, where citizens have a right to their privacy even in instances involving the law. Anyone attempting to hijack a person’s identity, photo or details and hold it for ransom is committing a crime. Plain and simple.
It was the Cambridge Analytica breech that was the instigator for Parliament to further increase privacy laws to protect their citizens from harm. After all, in the last two years alone, we’d seen the Equifax breech which exposed 143 million names, social security numbers and private credit reports. The American government did nothing on behalf of those effected by it- nor put any provisions in place to prevent it from happening again. You see, the US government sees far to much value in your data to protect you from it’s exposure. It’s sold for millions to advertisers, lobbyists, and business enterprises as well as used to create vast and resourceful volumes on everyday people, their online behaviors, their credit card usage, purchasing history, personal belief systems, points of presence, travel history, whether you are a homeowner, your income level, your age, how many children you have, where you’ve lived in the past. The list goes on and on. None of that information is private. If you could see your profile on Google, you’d be horrified. In some cases, those who checked found photos taken from old phones they thought had been gone as far back as 6 years ago. It stored their geo-location of family trips using Google Maps, hotels they stayed at, their search history, questions they’ve asked Google Assistant, ads they’ve engaged with, personal cell phone numbers, where you work, even the types of hobbies you enjoy. And you can’t erase it.
Quite liberally they also use facial recognition software so that closed circuit cameras will recognize you in airports, banks and even at ATM machines. They’ve gone as far as to create new software that can determine the facial changes of a Transgender person whose features will inevitably shift and soften in Male to Female, or alternatively, recognize facial hair and sharper features on a Female to Male Transgender individual.
Some will argue that these radical invasions of our privacy are solely in pursuit of heightened security- to thwart would-be terrorists or apprehend a wanted criminal. Regardless, the cost of this security is your self sovereignty.
The European Union recognizes the basic human right to privacy for all of its residents and have made certain that their new laws crosses international boundaries, limiting even developers in silicon valley from misusing a European residents information. This is why, thus far, I’ve received about 200 emails from everyone from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, game applications, file storage companies and even Google stating they have updated their privacy policies to be in compliance with the GDPR.
This is great news for European citizens who are no longer threatened by America’s reckless handling of user data and profile building. They maintain ownership- and control- over what is allowed on the web and what information companies may harvest. In fact, they can have their presence scrubbed clean, and search engines as well as data miners must comply or risk breaking the law.
Although the United States Constitution does not explicitly include the right to privacy, the Supreme Court has found that the Constitution implicitly grants a right to privacy against governmental intrusion from the First Amendment, Third Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and the Fifth Amendment.
This right to privacy has been the justification for decisions involving a wide range of civil liberties cases, including Pierce v. Society of Sisters, which invalidated a successful 1922 Oregon initiative requiring compulsory public education, Griswold v. Connecticut, where a right to privacy was first established explicitly, Roe v. Wade, which struck down a Texas abortion law and thus restricted state powers to enforce laws against abortion, and Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down a Texas sodomy law and thus eliminated state powers to enforce laws against sodomy.
The 1890 Warren and Brandeis article “The Right To Privacy” is often cited as the first implicit declaration of a U.S. right to privacy. This right is frequently debated. Some argue that such rights exist (or at least that the Supreme Court has more jurisdiction to protect such a right), while some civil libertarians argue that the right invalidates many types of currently allowed acts such as being surveilled without reasonable cause.
Most states of the United States also grant a right to privacy and recognize these four torts based on that right:
- Intrusion upon seclusion or solitude, or into private affairs;
- Public disclosure of embarrassing private facts;
- Publicity which places a person in a false light in the public eye; and
- Appropriation of name or likeness.
The 4 privacy torts above were introduced by William Prosser, some even argue this in addition to the “right to privacy” by Warren and Brandeis form the basis for modern U.S. privacy legislation.
Also, in some American jurisdictions the use of a person’s name as a keyword under Google’s AdWords for advertising or trade purposes without the person’s consent has raised certain personal privacy concerns.
Right to privacy and social media content laws have been considered and enacted in several states, such as California’s “online erasure” law protecting minors- NOT ADULTS from leaving a digital trail. However, the United States is still far behind that of European Union countries in protecting privacy online. For example, the “right to be forgotten” ruling by the EU Court of Justice protects both adults and minors.
On March 11, 2015, Intelligence Squared US, an organization that stages Oxford-style debates, held an event centered on the question, “Should the U.S. adopt the ‘Right to be Forgotten’ online?” The side against the motion won with a 56% majority of the voting audience.
This means that Americans remain at great risk with the complete loss of privacy and at the mercy of massive corporations who intend to use their information like a new currency. Google and Facebook currently have the monopoly on most American identities profiled for their databases.
Despite the potential threats to the safety of Americans from things like identity theft, financial breeches of security, blackmail, disclosure of personal records, and exposure to stalkers led right to their front door, the US government patently refuses to take action and protect it’s people.