US Data Privacy Campaigners Support Brussels Against US Interference

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

US groups from opposing factions do battle in Brussels

Whilst the US government and a number of major corporations like Facebook lobby the European Commission to water down its data privacy proposals, other American groups are telling Brussels officials to press on with the plans.

The data protection directive and regulation laid out in full last January provoked a backlash from government bodies and private businesses who felt the Commission went too far. It proposed further enshrining the “right to be forgotten” in law, forcing companies to confess to data breaches within 24 hours and giving regulators the power to fine firms as much as two percent of their annual turnover for severe offences.

EU, Europe © Virginija Valatkiene Shutterstock 2012Data privacy wars

TechWeekEurope learned the lengths to which US lobbyists had gone in December, described as “extreme” by concerned data privacy activists. The EC said it was resisting the pressure from the US, despite massive efforts from the US Chamber of Commerce and Facebook, amongst others.

But the Commission will be getting some support from US privacy advocates. A group including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Consumer Federation of America and Friends of Privacy US, is due to descend on Brussels today and tomorrow, showing their support for the plans as they meet with various officials.

“We will tell them US NGOs strongly support the proposed law, and they should reject US calls to weaken it,” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told TechWeekEurope.

“Consumer data protection and access to criminal justice data are the key issues.”

Chester said the group was largely supportive of the recommendations of German Green Party MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht, who issued a lengthy report earlier this month. In that report, Albrecht suggested tweaking the right to be forgotten so it was a “right to erasure and to be forgotten”.

He also suggested preventing businesses from accessing people’s personal sensitive data where they could prove their reasons were more important than the person’s privacy.

Albrecht is also keen to make it simple for people to access their information and transfer it to other services, enforcing common formats.

On the other side, companies like Facebook and Google are not keen to carry out sweeping changes that may not be such a massive boon for privacy, may not be what citizens want and would come at significant cost.

What’s clear is that lines are being drawn in the sand in Brussels, with privacy advocates on the one side, and concerned public and private organisations on the other. Yet the Commission remains bullish, and doesn’t look like it is going to be swayed much, especially by those wanting radical changes to the initial proposals.

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