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January 23, 2013

Advocates Urge EU to Implement Strict Online Privacy Rules

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An alliance of privacy advocates is requesting the European Union issue strict new online privacy regulations.

“The European Union must act to help set a global standard protecting the fundamental right to privacy,” the Center for Digital Democracy, ACLU, Consumer Federation of America, Friends of Privacy USA and other groups said in reports supplied to EU officials Jan. 21.

A delegation of those representing consumer, privacy and civil liberties is currently in Brussels to meet with members of the European Parliament.

The group efforts appear to be a direct challenge to a document issued last week by U.S. officials asking European regulators to put new privacy regulations on hold, particularly those that could prevent some forms of data collection without opt-in consent.

“The United States believes that consent should be meaningful and that the methods of expressing such consent take into account the context,” the government paper says. “For example, consent need not always be express, affirmative consent, and the means for individuals to communicate their choices should match the scale, scope and sensitivity of the personal data that organizations collect, use, or disclose.”

The privacy watchdogs’ document says the new European rules will enhance privacy efforts “outside the EU as well,” adding that leading U.S. consumer groups support the EU approach to establishing a comprehensive legal framework for data protection.

“The European Union must act to help set a global standard protecting the fundamental right to privacy for citizens and consumers,” one of the reports reads. “The “self-regulatory” model endorsed by the Obama Administration and leading U.S. data collection companies has failed to protect consumers from having their information — including highly personal and sensitive data — being collected and used.”

The groups claim both the U.S. government and American companies are attempting to undermine policies associated with the proposed regulation out of fear the EU “will set a global standard” demanding fair, transparent, and accountable data collection practices.

“There is a dramatic expansion of data collection of online users, a digital “arms” race that is being fought in the U.S., EU, Asia Pacific, and other areas,” the report reads. “Personal data are compiled and sold to the highest bidder in “milliseconds” via online auctions—all without the knowledge or consent of the consumer.”

The use of “ad exchanges” courtesy of the U.S. online industry has mechanized the buying and selling of individuals not only in North America, but throughout the EU, the group says, adding U.S. companies are continually trying to collect more user information because there are few restrictions on their data collection rituals.

“Trust in the digital data system is challenged daily, as new forms of collection without user consent are revealed by the press,” the reports reads. “The industry is under siege because of its practices, and has to continually retool or launch new self-regulatory initiatives designed to calm policymakers and the public.

“Effective action from the EU setting a new standard for data protection will spur global public support for the digital economy. Such a EU policy will unleash greater growth for the online sector, foster innovation, and ensure citizens have meaningful rights in the Digital Era.”

 

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