Outsourcing the Police: How Reliance on the Private Sector for Law Enforcement Threatens Privacy Legislation Around the World

Colbary, Karl | March 1, 2021

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.