The Past, Present and Future of US Privacy Law


Despite its antecedents in one of the most widely cited law review articles of all time from more than 130 years ago, modern United States privacy law is roughly twenty years old. Even though still in its relative infancy, privacy law is now everywhere. It affects the daily lives of almost everyone, virtually everywhere in the world. It has implications for virtually every company, in virtually every industry, in virtually every country in the world. And the substantive provisions of privacy law are changing and evolving in real-time, with major developments essentially every year (with a future overall U.S. national privacy law as the ultimate privacy pot of gold at the end of this legal rainbow). There are few court decisions, and a lot of open issues, as regulated entities struggle to understand and apply these relatively new provisions.

As part of this evolution, the legal structure for protecting privacy in appropriate ways is one of the defining debates of our society today, with no signs of slowing down in the foreseeable future. At the same time, privacy law (in its own development) is barely a young adult. Based on its childhood and teenage periods, what will privacy law grow into as it matures and becomes a responsible member of society? As we look toward a potential national privacy law, what are the governing principles and key issues for this future law?

Originally published in the Seton Hall Law Review (Vol. 51: Iss. 5, Article 5).

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