American Privacy and EU Privacy

By Paul Rosenzweig
Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 2:33 PM

Of course the US cares about privacy, just as much, if not more, than they do in the EU.  And the data are clear that in the EU, national security and law enforcement surveillance are often subject to less formal judicial control than in America.

Many have been making this case for quite some time (including my colleagues Tim Edgar and Carrie Cordero, to whose posts I've linked above).  One of my favorite examples of this disparity between the perception of Europe as "privacy-protective" and the reality of how law enforcement operations in Europe has always been the special case of hotel guest registration.  Several years ago, the DHS Privacy Office did a report on guest registration privacy practice that was revealing:

As of the date of this report, it remains unclear whether EU Member State law enforcement, intelligence, and security agencies actually meet the standards for the protection of personal data that European interlocutors have argued various EU laws require. The level of EU transparency in this area does not seem to meet standards imposed by US law as evidenced by the difficulty my office faced in obtaining data from official sources. In addition, numerous questions remain regarding the effectiveness in the oversight of law enforcement and security agency collection and use of hotel guest registration data in the EU.

So why hearken back to this issue -- because of yesterday's oral argument in the Supreme Court.  The case is Patel v. Los Angles and the question is whether American law enforcement can check hotel records using administrative action without the benefit of a warrant or judicial authorization ... and the reports suggest that the answer is "yes."  So, perhaps, the US isn't worse than the EU in privacy protection -- but perhaps it is no better either.