Edited by Federico Fabbrini and Vicki C. Jackson
Revelations that the United States (US) National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting widespread mass electronic surveillance around the world – including vacuuming up vast amounts of data about cellphone location, internet browsing, emails, contact lists, and the like – has sparked the most extensive global debate about privacy that the world has ever seen. The European Union (EU) has been especially critical of the secret activities of the NSA, and the press has been quick to claim that a transatlantic clash has emerged between the EU and the US on matters of privacy and national security. The accounts mirror the contention, first articulated by James Whitman, that there are “two western cultures of privacy” and that the US and the EU are fundamentally different in their respective approaches to privacy and surveillance. In March 2014 the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the NSA’s systematic, blanket collection of personal data, and stating that the “US data protection legal framework does not ensure an adequate level of protection for EU citizens. In October 2015, then, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Schrems invalidated the EU-US Safe Harbor Agreement, which allowed private companies to transfer personal data across the Atlantic, ruling that in light of the Snowden revelations, it appeared that law and practice in force in the US did not ensure adequate protection of the personal data held in its territory against US surveillance. We do not dispute that there are important differences between EU and US approaches to privacy.
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