Vaizey knocks EC privacy proposals

Culture minister Ed Vaizey has said European proposals to allow national privacy watchdogs to pursue companies beyond their borders is 'illogical' and the 'right to be forgotten' is unworkable
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

European proposals to extend the juristiction of privacy watchdogs overseas and to put a 'right to be forgotten' into law have been criticised by culture minister Ed Vaizey.

The proposal to make global corporations liable for data breaches that occur outside of Europe, but affect European citizens, was not logical, Vaizey told a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference on Tuesday.

Vaizey Europe data

Ed Vaizey has criticised the European proposal to put a 'right to be forgotton' into law. Photo credit: David Meyer

"We agree data should be processed in accordance with expectations of privacy in Europe," Vaizey said at the conference. "But we need to be aware that questions of liability could jeopardise the ability of European firms to use the cloud for data processing and storage. We should question the logic of trying to make firms outside of the EU subject to EU law."

Vaizey added that international transfer of data needs to continue as it is "critical to economic growth".

The European Commission is in the process of updating the E-Privacy Directive, one of the pillars of European privacy law. Justice commissioner Viviane Reding has put forward a number of proposals to update the directive, including extending privacy watchdogs' jurisdiction.

Reding has also favoured a 'right to be forgotten', which stipulates that users of social-networking sites such as Facebook should be easily able to remove content and information about themselves from those sites.

Proposal practicalities

Vaizey said a this right is not practical, as data can proliferate across the internet.

"How do we force a website hosted in Calcutta to take down an image uploaded in Croydon?" Vaizey said. "We should not give people false expectations. No government can guarantee that photos shared with the world will be deleted by everyone when someone decides it's time to forget."

Vaizey was lukewarm about two other privacy proposals from Reding: default privacy settings for software and greater transparency about how companies use customer data.

"When it comes to putting these revisions into practice, we need to think carefully about how to ensure that they do not stifle innovation," he said.

The culture minister also called for greater collaboration between Europe, the US and the UK in formulating privacy laws with an international reach.

"It is... vital that the Commission works closely with the US administration, so that we can move towards a unified approach that will benefit consumers and businesses alike on both sides of the Atlantic," Vaizey said.

The US Department of Commerce has consulted on online privacy, and the Obama administration has set out principles for a privacy bill, he added.

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