Troubled waters in Safe Harbour

Consumer groups say the proposal between the US and the EU doesn't go far enough in protecting citizens' right to privacy
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

A group representing consumers in the US and Europe said the "Safe Harbour" privacy provision between the European Union and the US government doesn't go far enough in protecting the rights of the citizens of either region.

After reviewing the proposal reached between the two sides in recent weeks, the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), a coalition of consumer groups including the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (Epic), said the plan doesn't give EU residents the level of privacy that the law requires.

If an agreement is reached, it would, among other things, require US Web companies to tell European citizens how their data would be used and get their consent to use it. Companies that violate the rules may be charged with deceptive business practices.

However, TACD said the proposal still relies on the theory that privacy can be negotiated and that industry can self-regulate.

"Based on their experience to date, US consumer organisations have little confidence in the effectiveness of the self-regulatory system for protecting the personal information of EU citizens," a TACD statement read.

The TACD assessment of Safe Harbour comes as the so-called Article 31 committee -- the group that decides whether privacy rules meet EU standards -- is scheduled to meet in the coming days.

The two regions have been at odds for years because European governments consider a citizen's privacy to be a legal right, while the US leaves it up to companies to decide how the information of private citizens is used, stored and sold.

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