Republicans Doubt EU On-Line Privacy

Article excerpt

Republicans took aim at European on-line privacy policies yesterday during a hearing of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, one of the key panels considering new privacy laws in the United States.

The panel yesterday discussed Europe's on-line privacy policies as it ponders whether to place more regulations on U.S. Web sites collecting personal data of consumers.

Lawmakers criticized the European Union Data Protection Directive, established to protect the personal data of Europe's citizens, and the safe-harbor provision, a data privacy accord that protects U.S. companies from sanctions by the European Union.

"I am not convinced the safe-harbor provisions will mitigate the concerns over the regressive affects" of the European Union directive, said Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee, which held the hearing.

The European Union's data protection directive took effect in October 1998.

The Clinton administration negotiated the safe-harbor provision, which says U.S. companies that voluntarily agree to the principles of notice, choice and access must notify European consumers how they plan to use data they collect from them.

Safe harbor, which took effect in May, was a response to the data protection directive that prohibits the transfer of personal data to companies outside the European Union that failed to meet the 15-nations bloc's standards for protecting personal information. The European Commission, the European Union's governing body, has said the safe-harbor principles provide adequate privacy protections.

Europeans view protection of personal data given to on-line companies as a fundamental human right, Stefano Rodota, chairman of the European Union Data Protection Working Party, told the subcommittee yesterday. …