Privacy in the United States: overview

A Q&A guide to privacy in the United States.

The Q&A guide gives a high-level overview of privacy rules and principles, including what national laws regulate the right to respect for private and family life and freedom of expression; to whom the rules apply and what privacy rights are granted and imposed. It also covers the jurisdictional scope of the privacy law rules and the remedies available to redress infringement.

To compare answers across multiple jurisdictions, visit the Privacy Country Q&A tool.

This article is part of the global guide to data protection. For a full list of contents, please visit www.practicallaw.com/dataprotection-guide.

Ieuan Jolly, Loeb & Loeb
Contents

Legislation

1. What national laws (if any) regulate the right to respect for private and family life and freedom of expression?

From a federal law perspective, the fourth amendment to the US Constitution guarantees citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches. Case law has interpreted this to include a "right to privacy" or the "right to be left alone". The right to be free from intrusion into one's private life is recognised by most states. The first amendment to the US Constitution protects freedom of expression.

 
2. Who can commence proceedings to protect privacy?

The US Constitution protects all US citizens. State laws typically protect residents of those states.

 
3. What privacy rights are granted and imposed?

The right to privacy at the federal level includes:

  • The right to be free from search and seizure by the government.

  • The right to have one's communications free from interception.

  • The right to keep one's personal information private.

However, none of these rights are absolute. For example, the government can intercept communications if it has a compelling need.

 
4. What is the jurisdictional scope of the privacy law rules?

US privacy laws are enforced only by US courts, so the jurisdictional scope is limited to the US and its territories.

 
5. What remedies are available to redress the infringement of those privacy rights?

Remedies typically include injunctions, damages and/or fines.

 
6. Are there any other ways in which privacy rights can be enforced?

Violation of some privacy-related statutes provide individuals with private rights of action. The following also enforce and sanction violations of privacy rights:

  • State Attorney Generals.

  • Some local District Attorneys.

  • Industry disciplinary bodies, federal agencies and consumer protection agencies and groups.

 

Contributor details

Ieuan Jolly, Partner

Loeb & Loeb LLP

T +1 212 407 4810
F +1 646 390 0403
E ijolly@loeb.com
W www.loeb.com

Areas of practice. Technology; communications; privacy; digital media


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