Data Privacy: World War II Shaped the Evolution of Privacy Laws

Data Privacy: World War II Shaped the Evolution of Privacy Laws

The acknowledgment of the right to privacy in the United States may appear to be a relatively new advancement, but it dates back over 133 years to 1890 when the Harvard Law Review published a remarkable article entitled “The Right to Privacy,” written by esteemed attorneys Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis. In that article, the authors advocate for the concept of the “right to be left alone” as a fundamental definition of privacy. The European Union has not only caught up to the privacy laws of the United States but has also made significant strides in advancing the cause of privacy, positioning itself as a global beacon of privacy protection.

World War II is still fresh in the hearts and minds of the Europeans. During that historical era, the ruling regime systematically violated individuals’ privacy rights, engaging in mass surveillance, arbitrary arrests, and the collection of personal data for discriminatory purposes. In the aftermath of the war, there was a strong desire among German lawmakers to prevent such abuses from happening again and to establish a legal framework that protected individual rights and freedoms, including privacy.

Germany enacted Grundgesetz (Basic Law) in 1949 to establish the right to informational self-determination, which protects individuals’ control over their personal data. European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was adopted in 1950, it included Article 8, which safeguards the right to respect for private and family life, home, and correspondence.

The Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, implemented in 1995, was the first comprehensive privacy law in the European Union (EU). It established principles and rules regarding the processing and transfer of personal data within the EU, this later transformed into GDPR in 2018. GDPR introduced enhanced rights for individuals, such as the right to be forgotten, the right to data portability, and strengthened consent requirements. The GDPR also imposed stringent obligations on organizations handling personal data and introduced severe penalties for non-compliance, recently Meta and Amazon were fined €1.2 Billion and €746 million respectively.

The constant advancement of technology can seriously compromise our privacy in ways we’ve never seen before. AI tools, in particular, can intrude on our personal information like never before, and the ever-changing digital world poses a never-ending risk to our privacy. The right to privacy is complex and always evolving. It’s important for lawmakers and privacy experts to create laws and regulations that can protect us from these new threats to our personal data privacy.

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Phani Dasari – Global CISO

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