Privacy has always been a difficult concept to define, and privacy issues are complex.
For Europeans, privacy is a human right, while for Americans, privacy tends to be about liberty. It’s often thought that the Holocaust and the rise of totalitarianism in 20th century Europe have been the catalysts behind the region’s strong privacy and data protection regimes.
A recent book by Edwin Black, in detailed research, examines Nazi Germany’s use of the computer’s forebear to aid in systematic genocide. These Hollerith machines and punch cards helped the Third Reich organize and carry out the atrocities of the Holocaust. And in post-war Europe, the widespread use of surveillance and coercion informed and empowered the Stasi, the KGB and other totalitarian enforcers.
But is that the real reason the U.S. and Europe have such seemingly differing cultural constructions of privacy?