As an American expatriate living in China I have two rather different perspectives on privacy laws. The four years I lived in Thailand lend yet another, though it might be described as somewhat between the first two.

America has dissonant declarations versus implementations, thanks in no small part to the PATRIOT act (2001). That is to say, while ostensibly liberty, privacy and human rights are concepts much valued in the United States, in point of fact they aren't currently very well executed. China, on the other hand has a rather more pragmatic stance. Whether one would care to argue that the same disconnect between what is said and what is done is in evidence, I believe it is generally understood by both those inside and outside the country that very little real privacy exists at this time.

The FBI and the NSA have had some of the most cutting edge surveillance technologies, electronic and otherwise, since their inceptions (FBI, 2010) (NSA, 1972). However there was some legislation (FISA (FAS, 2010) and its progenitors among others) that protected American citizens from some abuses. A careful reading of HR 3162 reveals that, while FISA hasn't been repealed it is effectively much changed by justice and executive branch prerogatives. In addition, there is now surveillance infrastructure in place that may theoretically comply with privacy legislation but the abuse of which is trivial and probably inevitable (EFF 2010).

China's privacy laws may be headed in the opposite direction. While still effectively somewhat of a totalitarian state, it is under pressure both from its own rising middle class and its burgeoning role as a world leader to demonstrate some progress in human rights. Among these rights is a notion of privacy. Culturally I don't see it given much value yet and pragmatically it's incredibly difficult to achieve, but legislatively I do see an attempt (Tracy & Abrams, 2008) although I can't find evidence of any implementation yet (LawInfoChina, 2010).

Thailand is a very interesting case. Its combination of Asian heritage with large influxes of Western values created an Internet unlike anything I've seen, with outages and blockages bouncing up and down as 'moral' values or protection of face were implemented then often rescinded. I expect the same goes on with legislation, around privacy concerns and otherwise. But I wouldn't venture to guess where it's headed until the current instability is resolved.

EFF (2010) NSA Spying FAQ [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 10 April, 2010)

Federation of American Scientists (2010) Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, 1978-2009 [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 10 April, 2010)

FBI (2010) Surreptitious Surveillance Cameras [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 10 April, 2010)

LawInfoChina (2010) Basic Laws [Online]. Available from (Accessed: 9 April, 2010)

NSA (1972) TEMPEST: A Signal Problem [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 10 April, 2010)

The PATRIOT Act (2001) HR 3162 [Online]. Available from: (Accessed: 9 April, 2010)

Treacy B., and Abrams M. (2008) A Privacy Law for China [Online] Available from: (Accessed: 9 April, 2010)