A New Study on Privacy Online in Israel

Calls to better safeguard users' privacy online and improve protection of personal data on the Internet are commonplace. The concerns about privacy issues are sometimes coupled with demanding higher legal standards of protection pertaining to access and use of personal data obtained over the Internet by third parties, may they be the government and its agencies or private entities that collect and use personal data for commercial purposes. Professors Michael Birnhack (Tel Aviv University) and Niva Elkin-Koren (University of Haifa) have just posted a new and highly interesting study that addresses questions of compliance with privacy regulation in Israel.

Studying patterns of behavior and compliance in Israel is particularly revealing, since, as the authors note, “The European model provides a general right to informational privacy, across the board, in a detailed regulatory regime, that imposes series of duties upon processes of personal data, whereas the American approach settles for specific laws that regulate the collection and processing of specific kinds of data. The Israeli data protection regime provides a general informational privacy right, in the European spirit. The few studies that have examined privacy practices of websites in other jurisdictions studied mostly American websites. The current study explores the efficacy of the thicker legal regime in regulating online privacy, and thus provides a base for comparative analysis with the studies of American sites.”

So, does the law matter in issues of privacy protection at all, at least as far as the practice and policies of public and private websites are concerned? Would a more “European” approach to data protection help alleviating at minimum some of the major concerns in this area? The study suggests that “[t]he overall picture that emerges from the findings is one in which the law seems to play only a relatively minor role in shaping users' ‘privacy experience’ online, while other forces and factors are clearly at play.”

Is this because the law is incapable of doing a better job in this area, or is it rather a matter of ineffective enforcement of strong privacy protection laws where they do exist?

You can read the abstract and download the full text version here.

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