Group Sees Europe Privacy Crackdown as Chance for a Deal

By Scott, Mark | International New York Times, October 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Group Sees Europe Privacy Crackdown as Chance for a Deal


Scott, Mark, International New York Times


The group of leading global privacy experts hopes to see greater cooperation between Europe's privacy regulators and the Federal Trade Commission.

Companies are scrambling. American and European lawmakers are upset. And no one really knows how to respond.

The cause of the anxiety? The decision two weeks ago by Europe's highest court to strike down a 15-year-old international agreement, known as safe harbor, that allowed companies to move digital information like people's web search histories between the European Union and the United States.

The ruling has left businesses like Facebook and Google, which rely on the easy transfer of online information to make money from digital advertising, on uneasy legal footing.

A new safe harbor agreement between Europe and the United States could help ease some of that uncertainty, but negotiators have been unable to reach a new deal for two years.

And in a sign of increased tension, European privacy regulators say they will start to enforce tougher oversight of data transfers, including issuing fines and banning overseas data transfers, by the end of January if a new agreement is not reached.

Yet despite the uncertainty, a group of leading global privacy experts says government officials in Europe and America should use the ruling to their advantage -- as a way to create better cooperation between agencies. The group, whose project is called Privacy Bridges, was to publish recommendations on Wednesday that offer regulators a series of specific steps to help officials work better together.

"We should never waste a good crisis," said Jacob Kohnstamm, a member of the group and the data protection regulator in the Netherlands. "We're trying to make things a little less onerous with these practical steps."

In particular, the group wants greater cooperation between Europe's privacy regulators and the Federal Trade Commission, the American agency primarily in charge of data protection issues. Such collaboration could reduce misunderstandings on each region's stance toward privacy, build trust between global regulators and share the best ways to handle new tech trends like cloud computing, according to the group.

The experts' conclusions, which can be put into effect within current privacy rules, will be presented at a global privacy conference in Amsterdam next week. Many of the world's data protection regulators, including those from the United States, are expected to discuss the European court ruling at the conference.

The group, whose members include Daniel J. Weitzner, a former deputy chief technology officer at the White House, will recommend that countries give individuals greater control over how their data is used. …

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