EU to U.S.: Privacy rules not good enough
April 23, 1999
by Elizabeth de Bony
BRUSSELS (IDG) -- European Union member states urged the U.S. this week to improve its data privacy standards as the only way of resolving a simmering transatlantic dispute on the subject, a Commission official who asked not to be identified said Wednesday.
At a meeting next Wednesday in Washington, John Mogg, Director General of the Commission's internal market division, and David Aaron, U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce, will continue talks aimed at resolving the dispute stemming from an EU directive on data privacy that took effect on Oct. 25, 1998.
This past Monday in Brussels, national privacy experts from the 15 member states of the European Union met and recognized that the new privacy guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce the same day indicated that the U.S. had already made a significant step in the direction of the EU's standards.
Nevertheless, the experts issued a statement saying they "shared the concerns of the European Commission that as far as the safe-harbor principles are concerned further work needs to be done on a number of issues."
Despite this plea the Commission remains confident that the two sides will reach an agreement in time for the EU-U.S. Summit on June 21 in Cologne.
The main two obstacles to a transatlantic agreement are the issues of consumer access to information in data files so that they can correct them or restrict their use, and enforcement of privacy protections, the official said.
The problem with enforcement, from the EU perspective, is that there are multiple enforcement mechanisms in place in the U.S. to regulate diverse subjects such as telecommunications, cable and financial services. The official explained that several months ago the Commission had asked the U.S. to supply a comprehensive list of all the enforcement mechanisms so it could determine whether they meet EU standards.
"The Commission is still waiting for the list," the official said.
Once these two points are clarified, the Commission can start the internal EU procedure needed to approve the safe-harbor principles as providing adequate protection as required by the EU directive.
The EU directive introduces high standards of data privacy to ensure the free flow of data throughout the 15 member states, and gives the individual the right to review personal data, correct it and limit its use.
The transatlantic tension stems from the directive's provisions which require member states to block transmission of data to third countries such as the U.S. if their domestic legislation does not provide an adequate level of protection.
EU, United States edge toward data privacy accord
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