Understanding American Privacy 

Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Tyler Blake, Neil Richards and Andrew B. Serwin


Research Handbook on Privacy and Data Protection Law: Values, Norms and Global Politics, Gloria González Fuster, Rosamunde van Brakel and Paul De Hert (eds.), Edward Elgar


Because the United States lacks a general data protection statute, some observers believe the United States lacks adequate privacy law. However, federal and state privacy laws do provide detailed privacy regulation in the US.

Policy Relevance

US privacy law has a substantial regulatory effect.

Main Points

  • Some observers believe that the United States lacks adequate privacy protection; however, taken together, US federal and state privacy law does provide a substantial regulatory effect.
  • US privacy law is bifurcated into two regimes, one covering the government and the other covering private sector actors such as corporations, individuals, and institutions; federal statutes regulating public authorities include the Privacy Act of 1974, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the United States Constitution, and others.
  • US law takes a sectoral approach; rather than a broad federal data protection law; US law regulates sectors such as health care, credit, or banking differently.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a regulatory agency with general authority over deceptive trade practices, serves a consumer protection function; some describe the FTC’s cases as having created a new common law of privacy.
  • US privacy law is federal, as both the national government and the fifty state governments have passed privacy laws.
    • California has enacted restrictive privacy laws, and firms in other states comply with these laws to do business in California.
    • State attorneys general help to enforce federal privacy norms.
  • US privacy law often involves the issue of privacy harm; in the US, plaintiffs must have suffered a concrete and particularized injury to have standing to sue.

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