Several proposed laws working their way through the European Parliament could give 500 million consumers the ability to block or limit many forms of online Web tracking and targeted advertising
Kevin J O'Brien
Silicon Valley technology companies and the United States government are pushing hard against Europe's effort to enact sweeping privacy protection for digital data. Several proposed laws working their way through the European Parliament could give 500 million consumers the ability to block or limit many forms of online Web tracking and targeted advertising. All the major American tech companies have directed their lobbyists in Brussels, where the Parliament is based, to press to weaken or remove these proposals from the European provisions.
And the United States Commerce Department is lobbying on behalf of the Obama administration, which is concerned that sweeping new privacy controls could hurt the United States tech industry in Europe. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Consumer Federation of America and the Friends of Privacy USA, an offshoot of the London-based Privacy International, weighed in with a different message: Europe needs to pass tough restrictions to save the digital economy, not destroy it. The dispute has brought into the open how much Europe and the United States differ on privacy rights and their role in the digital economy. Barry Steinhardt, the chairman of Friends of Privacy, founded last year, called it a “titanic clash.”
“The rest of the world is looking to see who will prevail because the Asians, Latin Americans and Africans all need to do business with the US and Europe,” Steinhardt said. “So this is extraordinarily important for Americans.” Steinhardt and his allies in the battle - Susan Grant, the director of protection for the consumer federation, and Ben Wizner, a lawyer who focuses on speech, privacy and technology at the ACLU — argued their case at a meeting this week with European members of Parliament.
“We are here to correct the record,” Wizner said. “Certainly the US government has been making misleading statements about the state of electronic privacy law in the US, how consumer protections are as strong in the U.S. as in Europe. But that is simply not the case.” Wizner said the United States had no equivalent to Europe’s general data protection law. American law, he said, guarantees consumer privacy only in specific cases, like medical and financial records, but permits online companies to conduct unfettered data mining with