In 1968, the Council of Europe began to study the effects of technology on human rights, recognizing the new threats posed by computer technology that could link and transmit in ways not widely available before. In 1969 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) began to examine the implications of personal information leaving the country. All this led the council to recommend that policy be developed to protect personal data held by both the private and public sectors, leading to Convention 108. In 1981, Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (Convention 108) was introduced. One of the first privacy laws ever enacted was the Swedish Data Act in 1973, followed by the West German Data Protection Act in 1977 and the French Law on Informatics, Data Banks and Freedoms in 1978.
In Canada, a Privacy Commissioner of Canada was established under the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1977. In 1982, the appointment of a Privacy Commissioner was part of the new Privacy Act. Canada signed the OECD guidelines in 1984.
Fair information practice
There are significant differences between the EU data protection and US data privacy laws. These standards must be met not only by businesses operating in the EU but also by any organization that transfers personal information collected concerning citizens of the EU. In 2001 the United States Department of Commerce worked to ensure legal compliance for US organizations under an opt-in Safe Harbor Program. The FTC has approved TRUSTe to certify streamlined compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor.
In 1995 the European Union (EU) introduced the Data Protection Directive for its member states. As a result, many organizations doing business within the EU began to draft policies to comply with this Directive. In the same year, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published the Fair Information Principles which provided a set of non-binding governing principles for the commercial use of personal information. While not mandating policy, these principles provided guidance of the developing concerns of how to draft privacy policies.
The United States does not have a specific federal regulation establishing universal implementation of privacy policies. Congress has, at times, considered comprehensive laws regulating the collection of information online, such as the Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act and the Online Privacy Protection Act of 2001, but none have been enacted. In 2001, the FTC stated an express preference for "more law enforcement, not more laws" and promoted continued focus on industry self-regulation.
In many cases, the FTC enforces the terms of privacy policies as promises made to consumers using the authority granted by Section 5 of the FTC Act which prohibits unfair or deceptive marketing practices. The FTC's powers are statutorily restricted in some cases; for example, airlines are subject to the authority of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and cell phone carriers are subject to the authority of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
In some cases, private parties enforce the terms of privacy policies by filing class action lawsuits, which may result in settlements or judgments. However, such lawsuits are often not an option, due to arbitration clauses in the privacy policies or other terms of service agreements.
While no generally applicable law exists, some federal laws govern privacy policies in specific circumstances, such as:
- The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act requires institutions "significantly engaged" in financial activities give "clear, conspicuous, and accurate statements" of their information-sharing practices. The Act also restricts use and sharing of financial information.
- The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) privacy rules requires notice in writing of the privacy practices of health care services, and this requirement also applies if the health service is electronic.
- The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) gives consumers more control over the personal information that businesses collect about them and the CCPA regulations provide guidance on how to implement the law.
- The California Privacy Rights Act of 2020 (CPRA) expands the privacy and information security obligations of most employers doing business in California. 
Canada's federal Privacy Law applicable to the private sector is formally referred to as Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The purpose of the act is to establish rules to govern the collection, use, and disclosure of personal information by commercial organizations. The organization is allowed to collect, disclose and use the amount of information for the purposes that a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstance.
The Act establishes the Privacy Commissioner of Canada as the Ombudsman for addressing any complaints that are filed against organizations. The Commissioner works to resolve problems through voluntary compliance, rather than heavy-handed enforcement. The Commissioner investigates complaints, conducts audits, promotes awareness of and undertakes research about privacy matters.
The right to privacy is a highly developed area of law in Europe. All the member states of the European Union (EU) are also signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Article 8 of the ECHR provides a right to respect for one's "private and family life, his home and his correspondence", subject to certain restrictions. The European Court of Human Rights has given this article a very broad interpretation in its jurisprudence.
In 1980, in an effort to create a comprehensive data protection system throughout Europe, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued its "Recommendations of the Council Concerning Guidelines Governing the Protection of Privacy and Trans-Border Flows of Personal Data". The seven principles governing the OECD’s recommendations for protection of personal data were:
- Notice—data subjects should be given notice when their data is being collected;
- Purpose—data should only be used for the purpose stated and not for any other purposes;
- Consent—data should not be disclosed without the data subject's consent;
- Security—collected data should be kept secure from any potential abuses;
- Disclosure—data subjects should be informed as to who is collecting their data;
- Access—data subjects should be allowed to access their data and make corrections to any inaccurate data; and
- Accountability—data subjects should have a method available to them to hold data collectors accountable for not following the above principles.
The OECD guidelines, however, were nonbinding, and data privacy laws still varied widely across Europe. The US, while endorsing the OECD’s recommendations, did nothing to implement them within the United States. However, all seven principles were incorporated into the EU Directive.
In 1995, the EU adopted the Data Protection Directive, which regulates the processing of personal data within the EU. There were significant differences between the EU data protection and equivalent U.S. data privacy laws. These standards must be met not only by businesses operating in the EU but also by any organization that transfers personal information collected concerning a citizen of the EU. In 2001 the United States Department of Commerce worked to ensure legal compliance for US organizations under an opt-in Safe Harbor Program. The FTC has approved a number of US providers to certify compliance with the US-EU Safe Harbor. Since 2010 Safe Harbor is criticised especially by German publicly appointed privacy protectors because the FTC's will to assert the defined rules hadn't been implemented in a proper even after revealing disharmonies.
Effective 25 May 2018, the Data Protection Directive is superseded by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which harmonizes privacy rules across all EU member states. GDPR imposes more stringent rules on the collection of personal information belonging to EU data subjects, including a requirement for privacy policies to be more concise, clearly-worded, and transparent in their disclosure of any collection, processing, storage, or transfer of personally identifiable information. Data controllers must also provide the opportunity for their data to be made portable in a common format, and for it to be erased under certain circumstances.
The Privacy Act 1988 provides the legal framework for privacy in Australia. It includes a number of national privacy principles. There are thirteen privacy principles under the Privacy Act. It oversees and regulates the collection, use and disclosure of people's private information, makes sure who is responsible if there is a violation, and the rights of individuals to access their information.
The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 made significant changes to the Information Technology Act, 2000, introducing Section 43A. This section provides compensation in the case where a corporate body is negligent in implementing and maintaining reasonable security practices and procedures and thereby causes wrongful loss or wrongful gain to any person. This applies when a corporate body possesses, deals or handles any sensitive personal data or information in a computer resource that it owns, controls or operates.
- Clear and easily accessible statements of its practices and policies;
- Type of personal or sensitive personal data or information collected;
- Purpose of collection and usage of such information;
- Disclosure of information including sensitive personal data or information;
- Reasonable security practices and procedures.
Online privacy certification programs
Online certification or "seal" programs are an example of industry self-regulation of privacy policies. Seal programs usually require implementation of fair information practices as determined by the certification program and may require continued compliance monitoring. TRUSTArc (formerly TRUSTe), the first online privacy seal program, included more than 1,800 members by 2007. Other online seal programs include the Trust Guard Privacy Verified program, eTrust, and Webtrust.
Some websites also define their privacy policies using P3P or Internet Content Rating Association (ICRA), allowing browsers to automatically assess the level of privacy offered by the site, and allowing access only when the site's privacy practices are in line with the user's privacy settings. However, these technical solutions do not guarantee websites actually follows the claimed privacy policies. These implementations also require users to have a minimum level of technical knowledge to configure their own browser privacy settings. These automated privacy policies have not been popular either with websites or their users. To reduce the burden of interpreting individual privacy policies, re-usable, certified policies available from a policy server have been proposed by Jøsang, Fritsch and Mahler.
This article's Criticism or Controversy section may compromise the article's neutral point of view of the subject. (January 2015)
Many critics have attacked the efficacy and legitimacy of privacy policies found on the Internet. Concerns exist about the effectiveness of industry-regulated privacy policies. For example, a 2000 FTC report Privacy Online: Fair Information Practices in the Electronic Marketplace found that while the vast majority of websites surveyed had some manner of privacy disclosure, most did not meet the standard set in the FTC Principles. In addition, many organizations reserve the express right to unilaterally change the terms of their policies. In June 2009 the EFF website TOSback began tracking such changes on 56 popular internet services, including monitoring the privacy policies of Amazon, Google and Facebook.
Privacy policies suffer generally from a lack of precision, especially when compared with the emerging form of the Data Use Statement. Where privacy statements provide a more general overview of data collection and use, data use statements represent a much more specific treatment. As a result, privacy policies may not meet the increased demand for transparency that data use statements provide.
- McCormick, Michelle. "New Privacy Legislation." Beyond Numbers 427 (2003): 10-. ProQuest. Web. 27 Oct. 2011
- Gondhalekar, Vijay; Narayanaswamy, C.R.; Sundaram, Sridhar (2007), The Long-Term Risk Effects of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) on the Financial Services Industry, Advances in Financial Economics, 12, Bingley: Emerald (MCB UP ), pp. 361–377, doi:10.1016/s1569-3732(07)12014-4, ISBN 978-0-7623-1373-0, retrieved 2021-09-03
- Cavoukian, Ann (1995). Who Knows: Safeguarding Your Privacy in A Networked World (paperback). Random House of Canada: Random House of Canada. ISBN 0-394-22472-8.
- "Codes Display Text". leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
- Overview of the Data Protection Directive, EC.europa.eu
- U.S. Federal Trade Commission Fair Information Practice Principles, FTC.gov Archived 2009-03-31 at the Wayback Machine
- HR 237 IH, The Consumer Internet Privacy Enhancement Act, as Introduced in House, 107th Congress Loc.gov.[permanent dead link]
- HR 89 IH, Online Privacy Protection Act of 2001, as Introduced in House, 107th Congress Loc.gov Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
- Kirby, Carrie "FTC drops the Call for New Internet Privacy Laws," SFGate, October 5, 2001. SFgate.com
- Implementation of 15 U.S.C. §§ 41-58, FTC.gov
- Electronic Privacy Information Center, Air Travel Privacy, Epic.org. Also, see FAA Enforcement Database at FAA.gov.
- Helmer, Gabriel M. "Cracking Down: FCC Initiates Enforcement Action Against Hundreds of Telecommunications Carriers For Failing to Certify Compliance With Customer Privacy Rules Security, Privacy and the Law, Foley Hoag, LLP, May 2009. Securityprivacyandthelaw.com. Also see FCC Enforcement Center at FCC.gov
- The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC.gov
- COPPA Safe Harbors discussed, Cybertelecom Federal Internet Law & Policy – an Educational Project. Krohn & Moss Consumer Law Center, Cybertelecom.org
- Discussion of compliance with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, FTC Privacy Initiatives, FTC.gov
- Data Privacy, A Safe Harbor Approach To Privacy: TRUSTe Recommendations, Center for Democracy and Technology, CDT.org Archived 2008-11-28 at the Wayback Machine
- Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, Loc.gov Archived 2015-05-11 at the Wayback Machine
- "The Financial Privacy Requirements of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act", FTC Facts for Business", FTC.gov
- Information Regarding the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999, US. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Senate.gov
- Understanding HIPAA Privacy, HHS.gov Health information privacy, HHS.gov
- Notice of HIPAA Privacy Practices. Privacy/ Data Protection Project, Miller School of Medicine Miami University, Miami.edu
- "California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)". State of California Department of Justice. 15 October 2018.
- "The California Privacy Rights Act of 2020". IAPP.
- Privacy Laws, State of California Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General
- Deceptive Trade Practices, Enotes.com
- Branch, Legislative Services (21 June 2019). "Consolidated federal laws of Canada, Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca.
- "Nous ne pouvons trouver cette page Web (Erreur 404) – Thème de la facilité d'emploi Web du gouvernement du Canada / We couldn't find that Web page (Error 404) – Government of Canada Web Usability theme". www.priv.gc.ca.
- "Guide on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: Right to respect for private and family life". Global Freedom of Expression. Retrieved 2020-10-25.
- "OECD Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data – OECD". www.oecd.org.
- Shimanek, Anna E. (2001). "Do you Want Milk with those Cookies?: Complying with Safe Harbor Privacy Principles". Journal of Corporation Law. 26 (2): 455, 462–463.
- Safe Harbor Compliance, Export.gov
- "10 Jahre Safe Harbor – viele Gründe zum Handeln, kein Grund zum Feiern". www.datenschutzzentrum.de. Archived from the original on 2015-10-14. Retrieved 2015-05-07.
- "Guide to the General Data Protection Regulation: Right to be informed". ico.org.uk. 2018-01-19. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
- "How Europe's new privacy rule is reshaping the internet". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-05-22.
- "Privacy Act 1988". AustLII. Retrieved 2013-06-25.
- "National Privacy Principles". Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. Retrieved 2013-06-25.
- "Australian Privacy Principles". OAIC. Retrieved 2020-10-26.
- "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2014-06-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- G.S.R. 313(E) dated 11 April 2011
- Rule 4 of the Information Technology (Reasonable security practices and procedures and sensitive personal data or information) Rules, 2011
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-17. Retrieved 2009-12-02.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Testimony of Deirdre Mulligan before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications – Center for Democracy & Technology". www.cdt.org.
- "Privacy Seals & Services by Trust Guard". www.trust-guard.com.
- "Privacy Certification". www.etrust.org.
- "WebTrust seal program". www.cpacanada.ca. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
- Softsteel Solutions "The Platform for Privacy Preferences Project (P3P)", Softsteel.co.uk Archived 2012-09-10 at archive.today
- Millis, Elinor, "EFF tracking policy changes at Google, Facebook and others," Cnet Digital News, June 2009. Cnet.com
- Fogg, B. J. "How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility? (abstract)" BJ, Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, November 2002, Consumerwebwatch.org. Stanford Web Credibility Project found at Stanford.edu.
- Acquisti, Alessandro and Janice Tsai, Serge Egelman, Lorrie Cranor, "The Effect of Online Privacy Information on Purchasing Behavior: An Experimental Study" Carnegie Mellon University, 2007. Econinfosec.org
- Gorell, Robert. "Do Consumers Care About Online Privacy?" October 2007. Grokdotcom.com citing a study by Chris Hoofnagle, UC-Berkeley's Bolt School of Law. Samuelson Law, Technology & Public Policy Clinic, Berkeley.edu Archived 2009-11-28 at the Wayback Machine
- How Retailers Track Us (around 19:30)
- Goldman, Eric. "On My Mind: The Privacy Hoax," October 2002, EricGoldman.org
- Gazaleh, Mark (August 2008). "Online trust and perceived utility for consumers of web privacy statements". wbsarchive.files.wordpress.com.
- Gazaleh, Mark (May 2008). "Online trust and perceived utility for consumers of web privacy statements". Cite journal requires
- "The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies," Aleecia M. McDonald & Lorrie Faith Cranor," , July 2008.
- Barocas, Solon, and Helen Nissenbaum. “Big Data’s End Run around Anonymity and Consent.” Privacy, Big Data, and the Public Good, Cambridge University Press, 2014, pp. 44–75. Cambridge Core, doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781107590205.
- Gazaleh, Mark (2008) Online trust and perceived utility for consumers of web privacy statements, WBS London, 35pp.
- Cavoukian, Ann (1995). Who Knows: Safeguarding Your Privacy in A Networked Worldwide (paperback). Random House of Canada: Random House. ISBN 0-394-22472-8.