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25th May 2019

US lawmakers shun EU model on data privacy

  • Social media and Google searches are collecting troves of private data (Photo: respres)

US lawmakers dealing with data privacy on Thursday (15 September) said their legislation needs to be improved but warned against following the EU model, which in their view has a "sporadic and inconsistent enforcement."

Looking at the 'burden' of EU data privacy laws on US companies, representatives dealing with trade and commerce in the US Congress said that America's legislation needs to be upgraded to better protect against identity theft and security breaches, but that government has a tendency to "overreach".

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Republican congresswoman Mary Bono Mack said EU online privacy laws have "sporadic and inconsistent enforcement, with a seemingly disproportionate number of American companies targeted for compliance violations."

"EU directives at some point crossed paths with Murphy's law. Anything that can possibly go wrong, does," she said.

Democratic congressman G.K. Butterfield said the EU data protection law sounds fine in principle, but it is not applied in the same way across the bloc. "For businesses that have to navigate the laws of these 27 different countries, some regulations can feel pointless, some paperwork and record-keeping burdensome, and some enforcement actions unfair," he said.

On the part of the US government, Nicole Lamb-Hale from the International Trade Administration reassured representatives that the Obama administration is not looking to copy the EU model and its problems with enforcement, but that the US needs to upgrade its privacy laws to give more confidence to other countries when exchanging data.

Smartphone apps for instance are currently not covered by US privacy laws and Congress has to update that, in order to "protect consumers and promote international trade," she said.

Meanwhile, a joint EU-US consumer group has protested against the "tone" of the hearing, putting too much emphasis on the bureaucratic burden and less on the privacy problems that come with increased collection of personal data by various websites and online services.

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue said it was "somewhat surprised by what appears to be an effort to call into question the purpose and 'burden' of the EU data protection directive" at at time in the US there are "spiralling levels of identity theft and security breaches."

The US discussion is being closely watched by the EU's consumer organisations, as the bloc itself is about to revamp its laws in the area. Legislation in this field dates back to 1995.

“It’s our strong interest as the commission refurbishes the EU regulatory framework on data protection that it doesn’t bow to mere commercial interests. A clear answer needs to be repeated that laws on data and privacy should apply to all companies operating in Europe, but not based here," said John Phelan from Beuc, the umbrella group representing consumer organisations.

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