Europe’s Thing with Privacy

It is no secret, Europeans are a little more let’s say touchy on the subject of privacy. Americans who fear the days of living a private life to themselves without corporations keeping track of their every move surely consider migrating abroad when considering the protections the EU provide for it’s citizens against privacy. Laws such as:

  • Personal information cannot be collected without consumers’ permission, and they have the right to review the data and correct inaccuracies.
  • Companies that process data must register their activities with the government.
  • Employers cannot read workers’ private e-mail.
  • Personal information cannot be shared by companies or across borders without express permission from the data subject.
  • Checkout clerks cannot ask for shoppers’ phone numbers.

AH I remember a time when I didn’t have to whisper my cell number to the checkout clerk in hopes any creepo around me wouldn’t hear, when all along the real culprit was the company I was freely giving my phone number to. How was I to know they were selling my information to the highest bidder for large sums of cash? It’s not like they were telling me.

Europeans view privacy as a human right. There are a few ideas lurking about concerning the origin of this privacythingthe Europeans seem to have. Some believe sensitivity to privacy originated during the holocaust. Nazis rounded up Jews with help from public and church records. Some claim it started with Dumas the french author of “The Three Musketeers.” As the story goes Dumas and a love interest mesmerized by this new innovation called the camera posed for some “scandalous” photos. Of course the classy photographer sought to make a buck on the pictures and Dumas sued. Ever since then!

“Any sale by a person who had momentarily ‘forgotten his dignity’ had to remain effectively voidable,” Yale law professor James Whitman wrote of the ruling in a paper titled “The Two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity versus Liberty.” “One’s privacy, like other aspects of one’s honor, was not a market commodity that could simply be definitively sold.”

Sounds poetic the way privacy is protected in Europe. In America however the art is sold to the highest bidder.

In 1995 the data protection directive was created. (officially Directive 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data) The Data Protection Directive regulates the processing of personal data within the European Union. It is a key objective of the EU privacy and humans rights law.

*In researching the sensitivity of European law I came across this excellent article by Bob Sullivan of msnbc.  Check it out for more info!


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