Privacy Wrongs in Search of Remedies

23 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2003 Last revised: 15 May 2008


The American legal system has generally rejected legal rights for data privacy and relies instead on market self-regulation and the litigation process to establish norms of appropriate behavior in society. Information privacy is protected only through an amalgam of narrowly targeted rules. The aggregation of these specific rights leaves many significant gaps and fewer clear remedies for violations of fair information practices. With an absence of well-established legal rights, privacy wrongs are currently in search of remedies.

The American public is beginning to demand that data privacy violators be held accountable. In a recent survey, Internet users overwhelmingly called for sanctions ranging from jail time to blacklisting of organizations that failed to respect privacy policies. Public enforcement actions and private law suits in the United States are just emerging as an important force in the creation of adequate protection for citizens' personal information in American society.

This Article first describes privacy rights and wrongs that frame the search for remedies in the United States. In particular, this section focuses on two different types of harm created by the misuse of personal information and the desire to find protective rights: personal or private wrongs and public or societal wrongs. Next this Federal Trade Commission and state Attorneys General have become important enforcers against personal wrongs, but their efforts fall short of accomplishing systematic change and fail to provide individual victims with any real remedy. The third part of this Article examines private claims for privacy wrongs. This section explores some tortured efforts to obtain redress for privacy violations and offers a few theories for unexploited and unexplored claims. Finally, this Article concludes with an instrumentalist view of the search for remedies. The current mismatch between privacy wrongs and remedies creates a destabilizing force that will ultimately push in favor of enhanced legal rights for data privacy.

Keywords: Privacy, data protection, remedies, fair information practices, civil rights, torts

Suggested Citation

Reidenberg, Joel R., Privacy Wrongs in Search of Remedies. Hastings Law Journal, Vol. 54, 2003; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 25. Available at SSRN: or

Joel R. Reidenberg (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6843 (Phone)
212-930-8833 (Fax)


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