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The term informational self-determination was first used in the context of a German constitutional ruling relating to personal information collected during the 1983 census.

In that occasion, the German Federal Constitutional Court ruled that: “[...] in the context of modern data processing, the protection of the individual against unlimited collection, storage, use and disclosure of his/her personal data is encompassed by the general personal rights of the [German Constitution]. This basic right warrants in this respect the capacity of the individual to determine in principle the disclosure and use of his/her personal data. Limitations to this informational self-determination are allowed only in case of overriding public interest.”

Informational self-determination is often considered similar to the right to privacy but has unique characteristics that distinguish it from the "Right to privacy" in the United States tradition. Informational self-determination reflects Westin's description of privacy: “The right of the individual to decide what information about himself should be communicated to others and under what circumstances” (Westin, 1970). In contrast, the "Right to privacy" in the United States legal tradition is commonly considered to originate in Warren and Brandeis' article, which focuses on the right to "solitude" (i.e., being "left alone") and in the Constitution's Fourth Amendment, which protects persons and their belongings from warrantless search.

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