New technology has created powerful new ways to gather, store, sort, analyze, locate, correlate, and disseminate data. This has enabled increasingly intensive use of personal data, which can deliver significant benefits. But the growing use of personal data raises a host of privacy challenges as well. Most consumers have only a limited understanding of the multiple ways that their data is used and shared in today’s data economy. Since the widely publicized security breach at ChoicePoint in 2005, there has been a nearly continuous stream of announcements of data security breaches at companies, government agencies, and universities. Consumers are concerned that they lack control over their personal information, and identity theft has become all too frequent.
Despite the unprecedented challenges to privacy in the modern environment, there is still no comprehensive law that spells out consumers’ privacy rights in the commercial marketplace. Instead, a confusing patchwork of distinct standards hast been developed over the years, with highly uneven results and many gaps in coverage.