Karl Colbary


Data privacy is an increasingly important issue in the world today. People are increasingly aware of, and concerned about, their digital footprint. As a result, many jurisdictions around the world—the United States excluded—have enacted legislation with an eye towards giving their citizens greater control over their data. However, the movement to give individuals greater control over how their data is used by tech providers often overlooks the fact that the government is one of the biggest consumers of the data that tech providers collect. Therefore, data privacy regimes that allow the flow of personal information to the government do not meaningfully protect individual privacy. As the people of the United States continue to debate how to best safeguard their personal information, they should be mindful of how law enforcement demand for their information can undermine those efforts.

This note begins by observing how the current legal framework in the United States is ill equipped to deal with the privacy issues of an increasingly digital world. Then, it examines the impact that data privacy legislation in China and Europe has had on the relationship between tech companies and law enforcement. Finally, by applying the lessons learned in China and Europe, this note attempts to predict how efforts to protect consumers’ data privacy may work in the United States. Ultimately, this note argues that, because law enforcement in the United States is reliant on the data collected by the private sector, meaningful data privacy reform is likely impossible unless it applies to both the private sector and government equally.