The majority of the world’s countries offer virtually no privacy standards to their citizens and businesses. And even if every country in the world did have its own privacy standards, this alone would not be sufficient to protect user privacy, given the web’s global nature. Data may move across six or seven countries, even for very routine Internet transactions. It is not hard to see why privacy standards need to be harmonized and updated to reflect this reality.

The problem of international data flow and privacy is not new. Potential problems were identified as early as the 1980s. At that time, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) established the first “fair information principles.” Twenty years after they were first established, OECD guidelines are now but one voice in a large chorus of local privacy standards.

There are a number of factors that contribute to the need for global privacy standards today more than ever before.

First, globalization. Today, all business is potentially international business, and this scale calls for organizations and those within them to operate in multiple countries. As data crosses geographic boundaries, the policies controlling it change.

Second, the growing recognition of privacy rights creates a need for global standards. Experts are not the only ones talking about privacy anymore; now ordinary citizens have entered into the debate. Increased attention to privacy among the general public has resulted in more national and local privacy laws which, in turn, have increased the fragmentation of global privacy policy.

Third, technological development also contributes to the need for global privacy standards. As technology develops, more and more information travels around the world faster and faster each day. Development of this kind increases the productivity of business and consumer transactions, but can potentially endanger privacy protections.

In addition to these factors, new threats to individual privacy emerge everyday and, without global standards, solutions to these problems will continue to be fragmented and ineffectual. All of these factors contribute in making the status quo of localized policies no longer acceptable. Countries cannot and will not be able to write effective privacy legislation without global cooperation. And as long as there are no global standards for privacy protection, individuals and businesses will remain at risk as they operate online.

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