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OECD Examines Privacy Guidelines 30 Years Later

May 2011

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently declassified a report entitled, "The Evolving Privacy Landscape: 30 Years After the OECD Privacy Guidelines."  The Report looks at the 30-year history of the OECD Privacy Guidelines, how they relate to the current data privacy landscape and what the role of the Guidelines may be in the future.

The Report deems the OECD Privacy Guidelines to have been "a remarkable success" and notes that they have been "highly influential" in the development of national data protection legislation and model privacy codes within OECD member countries.  The report attributes this success to the "concise, technologically neutral language" of the Guidelines, which has allowed them to be adapted by diverse governments and effectively applied to the changing social and technological environment over the past 30 years.

Changes Noted

The Report does acknowledge that the scale and capabilities of data gathering, correlation, transmission, aggregation and analysis have evolved in ways that the OECD could not have envisioned when the Guidelines were written.  During the past 30 years, new technologies and processes have led to more extensive and innovative uses of personal data, bringing a variety of novel economic and social benefits to consumers.  However, along with these benefits have come new risks to personal privacy that have placed unanticipated pressure on the limits of the Guidelines. 

The Report highlights some of these changes in the privacy environment as well as the evolving approaches to emerging issues that have been adopted by OECD member states, international organizations and private industry.  These innovations in privacy governance include technological responses, as well as new approaches to privacy by design, data management, international and regional cooperation, accountability and education.  The Report emphasizes the importance of paying close attention to these and other developments in privacy protection to ensure that privacy governance policies keep pace.