This Article questions the widespread contention that recent updates to European Union (EU) data protection law will drive a disruptive wedge between EU and United States (U.S.) data privacy regimes. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which took effect in May 2018, gives all EU citizens easier access to their data, a right to portability, a right to be forgotten, and a right to learn when their data has been hacked. These mandatory privacy protections apply to non-EU companies that offer goods or services to EU consumers, whether through a subsidiary or a website. The “Brussels Effect” hypothesis projects a “race to the top” as multinational entities find it easier to adopt the most stringent data protection standards worldwide, rather than satisfying divergent data privacy rules. The GDPR is said to be a prime example of the Brussels Effect because of its aggressive extraterritorial scope that unilaterally imposes EU law on U.S. entities.
This Article acknowledges a Brussels Effect, but there is also an overlooked “D.C. Effect” reflected in the GDPR’s adoption of many U.S. data privacy innovations. The GDPR imports long-established U.S. tort concepts for the first time into European privacy law, including deterrence-based fines, collective redress, wealth-based punishment, and arming data subjects with the right to initiate public enforcement. Under the GDPR, the EU Commission adopted “Privacy by Design” and security breach notification obligations, innovations pioneered in the U.S. The net effect of the GDPR is a bilateral transatlantic privacy convergence, which is rapidly evolving into a global data privacy standard. Nations around the world, some U.S. states, and the major U.S.-based data processors are instituting policies harmonized with the GDPR.
This Article argues that the GDPR has the potential to not only bring an end to the transatlantic data privacy wars, but to become the basis of a worldwide “gold standard” for global data privacy.