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American NGOs Urge Their Government To Support EU Privacy Proposals

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Seventeen US organisations ask their government to have the courage of Obama’s convictions

An open letter from US consumer and civil liberties bodies has asked the American government to support European efforts to introduce strict data privacy rules – which US companies such as Facebook have been opposing.

US companies including Facebook have previously argued strongly against the European Data Protection Regulation (DPR) proposals, with some observers describing the lobbying as “extreme”.

“We share a fundamental belief that Europe and the United States need to update their privacy laws,” says the letter, which follows a visit by US activists to Brussels, where they spoke out in favour of the proposed laws – which activists hope could be a model for adoption worldwide.

The Allies

The open letter is signed by 17 organisations, including the Consumer Federation of America and the American Civil Liberties Union (both of whom visited Brussels recently on this matter), and addressed to US Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State John Kerry, among others.

Data protection © pedrosek, Shutterstock 2012The letter appeals to President Obama’s stated supports for stricter data privacy regulation, even though the US government as a whole opposes the DPR. The activists seek “a meeting to ensure that the efforts of US policymakers in Europe advance the aim of privacy and are not averse to the views expressed by the President.”

“Europeans are working together to update and modernize their framework for privacy protection,” says the letter. “There are many important, innovative proposals contained in the package of reforms, as well as the recognition that the process of data protection can be simplified to the benefit of all.”

During the visit by US data privacy groups to Brussels,  to express their support of the DPR, they reported that various EU organisations were besieged by American lobbying groups.

Last year, the US government openly stated its opposition to DPR, asking the Chamber of Commerce to put pressure on the European Parliament to change the proposals. This aggressive campaign had attracted the attention of the EU Commission, but sources told TechWeekEurope at the time that “calls for postponing the reform substantially or for lowering its level of ambition were rejected.”

Several months later, the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection voted in favour of relaxing the Regulation proposals. “This vote shows how much the European Parliament can be influenced by the massive lobbying driven mostly by giant US corporations (banks, insurance and Internet services) going against the interest of EU citizens,” wrote Jérémie Zimmermann in a statement from French activists La Quadrature Du Net.

The decision is not final, and there are five more votes before the fate of the DPR is sealed at a plenary meeting, likely to take place in the summer. However, US activists want to stop corporate interests from influencing the upcoming votes.

“The tradition of privacy law in the United States is bipartisan, and we urge you to work with leaders in both parties to ensure that this fundamental American right is safeguarded. At the same time, we expect leadership from those who represent the United States overseas and we expect that the views of American consumers and privacy advocates, not simply business leaders, will be conveyed to your counterparts,” say the rights groups.

“The US should not stand in the way of Europe’s efforts to strengthen and modernize its legal framework,” concludes the letter.

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