The United States has been conducting business in regard to consumer privacy on a self-regulatory basis until now. As we are seeing with the pending legislation, the time for self-regulation might be over. The laws that have already been passed are forcing companies into federal compliance based on consumer and advocate group pressure. The EU has already made the push to strong government-enforced privacy standards. To do business in the EU, U.S. companies are being forced to modify their privacy tactics.
Even as technology becomes more invasive, we see responses led by certain groups, such as the EFF and EPIC, that are still willing to protect consumer rights. Large companies such as Microsoft and IBM, which have a lot to gain from gathering consumer information, are also attempting to protect users with initiatives such as P3P. Perhaps they see that if the government steps in completely and regulates all industries as the EU has done, they will be adversely affected. Finding the right mixture of self- regulation and government regulation is probably something that we will never achieve. One of the fears of government intervention is the inflexibility and slow movement of laws. Self-regulation can be modified quickly or ignored when a company needs to make a profit. Legislation also carries a monetary cost that self-regulation could never come close to matching. As we know from experience, whenever the government becomes involved, someone will be paying a great deal of money, and any costs the corporation incurs will eventually be passed onto the consumer.
We have seen that the sectorial self-regulation approach does not provide a standard baseline and measurement system for compliance. Each industry has its own guidelines or no guidelines at all for consumer privacy. The answer has not been found to consumer privacy through the self-regulation method. Consumers are being pulled in many directions, and the guidelines for privacy are still not defined or protected. For consumers to feel secure in using the Internet and other technologies while protecting who they are from prying eyes, corporations and governments must find a mixture of government and corporate compromise that will ensure we remain anonymous in an ever more connected world.