It is an understatement to say that a lot has happened in privacy law during the past decade. Here is my list of the most notable developments.
NOTE: I am giving a particular emphasis to what I find to be notable from a United States perspective. What is notable privacy law depends upon where one is situated. For example, if one is from a small country, that country’s developments are quite notable even if not well-known on a worldwide stage.
Facebook’s recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reignited debate over whether the agency is up to the task of protecting privacy. Many people, including some skeptics of the FTC’s ability to rein in Silicon Valley, lauded the settlement, or at least parts of it.
Others, however, saw the five-billion-dollar fine, oversight reforms, and compliance certification measures as a drop in the bucket compared to Facebook’s profits. Two dissenting FTC commissioners and other critics pointed out that the FTC did not change Facebook’s fundamental business model nor hold Mark Zuckerberg personally liable, despite hints that the company fell out of compliance with its original 2010 FTC consent order soon after that agreement was inked. Some privacy advocates and lawmakers even argued that the limits of the settlement are evidence that the FTC, the leading privacy regulator in the U.S. since the late 1990s, is no longer the right agency to protect our personal information from Big Tech. They support creating a new, consumer privacy-focused federal agency.
We think the FTC is still the right agency to lead the US privacy regulatory effort. In this essay, we explain the FTC’s structural and cultural strengths for this task, and then turn to reforms that could help the FTC rise to modern information privacy challenges. Fundamentally, the FTC has the structure and the legal powers necessary to enforce reasonable privacy rules. But it does need to evolve to meet the challenge of regulating modern information platforms.
You can read the rest of the essay over at Lawfare.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit issued its long-awaited decision in LabMD’s challenge to an FTC enforcement action: LabMD, Inc. v. Federal Trade Commission (11th Cir. June 6, 2018). While there is some concern that the opinion will undermine the FTC’s power to enforce Section 5 for privacy and security issues, the opinion actually is quite narrow and is far from crippling.
While the LabMD opinion likely does have important implications for how the FTC will go about enforcing reasonable data security requirements, we think the opinion still allows the FTC to continue to build upon a coherent body of privacy and security complaints in an incremental way similar to how the common law develops. See Solove and Hartzog, The FTC and the New Common Law of Privacy, 114 Columbia Law Review 584 (2014).